- Written by: Tom Faunce
- Produced by: Joe Atwood
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
Founded by John Gleason in 1970, ELFCO began in a small facility as a fasteners packaging company in Chicago Heights. “When we started out, we were strictly nuts and bolts,” says Mike Gleason, CEO of ELFCO and son of John. “That’s all we had when my dad started the business.” Since its humble beginnings, ELFCO has grown into a leading distributor of construction products to the commercial and industrial markets of the Midwest. Located in Mokena, Illinois, ELFCO serves contractors within a 75-mile radius of Chicago.
“Our value-added services are the biggest thing that sets us apart,” says Gleason. “We’re able to do certain things that our competition can’t and we like to focus on those things.” One place where ELFCO has set itself apart is in its reputation for consistently maintaining a full inventory. “People aren’t buying things because they might need them in a month; they buy products from us because they need them right away so it’s important for us to have those items in stock.”
ELFCO focuses primarily on the electrical and mechanical sectors. “That’s our niche,” says Gleason. “That’s mainly where we live.” While the company does not stray too often from its core market, ELFCO does perform a bit of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and conveyor business as well.
With 52 full-time employees, ELFCO will often go out of state to work with certain contractors. “The company is currently working on a job for Microsoft in Iowa. We dip into northwest Indiana as well as southern Wisconsin,” Gleason explains. “Other than that, 90 percent of our business is within the 75-mile radius of Chicago.”
Recently ELFCO has increased its business and market share with Milwaukee Power Tools. “We’ve really been gaining some traction with them,” says Gleason. “They’re a valued vendor to us and we have a great two-way relationship with them.” On the materials side of things, the company works closely with Eaton’s B-Line Business, which is a global manufacturer of innovative solutions dealing with seismic bracing, and electrical and electronic closures. “They are one of our biggest suppliers and have been very good to us.”
The amount of business that ELFCO does with Milwaukee Power Tools increases each year, largely due to the fact that Milwaukee Power Tools often distributes new items and will test-market its products by allowing contractors to use the tools in the field. “The company believes in its product so they know that by letting contractors test them, it will drive up sales,” says Gleason. “They are always coming out with something that is bigger, better and faster.”
While Gleason says that the industrial aspect of his work is his preferred portion of the business, the commercial sector remains the busiest industry right now. “The industrial side of things is a little closer to my heart but there is a lot of commercial work going on right now,” Gleason explains. “We have a pretty good mix of both though so that’s really good for us.”
With the constant evolution of technology, ELFCO consistently deals with the “latest and greatest” in new products, particularly in the power tool world. “Manufacturers are always changing a part number or changing a switch and coming up with something new,” says Gleason. “It’s a good constant evolution because there is a lot going on in mechanical and electrical construction in the Chicago area right now.”
In keeping up with the latest technology and new products, ELFCO invites vendors into its facility to educate employees on the latest products. “We have a monthly sales meeting where we bring a vendor in and they will update us on not only a new product, but also what’s going on in the marketplace,” Gleason explains.
“Our guys work in teams; an electrical and mechanical team and they get together and bounce ideas off each other. They’re always talking to project managers and engineers and getting a feel for what’s going on in the field.” This effort is also beneficial to ELFCO as the company receives a fair amount of its business through word-of-mouth.
With construction industry strong in the Chicago metro area, ELFCO has been supplying tools and products to contractors working on major projects. Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital is a 483,500-square-foot new construction site in which both mechanical and electrical contractors are turning to ELFCO to provide them with the tools and products they need. Other projects that the company is supplying material for include the Northwestern Kellogg School of Business building, Sunshine Data Center in Chicago and Centegra Hospital in Huntley.
When it comes to taking on new product lines, ELFCO is very selective to ensure that the product fits with the company’s niche market. “It has to be a good fit for us and what we do,” says Gleason. “We have branched out before and have tried some things that didn’t necessarily suit our or our client’s needs so we try to not get too far away from our core products.”
ELFCO aims to be the first distributor to be out in the field promoting the new up-and-coming items in the industry. “If Milwaukee Power Tools or Dewalt has a new item coming out, we want to be out there showing it, demonstrating it and going after that kind of business,” says Gleason. “It’s important for us to do that because the newer items are always rapidly improving. We’re all about saving the contractors money so if there is a new tool or improvement on a tool that makes everything more efficient, we want to be the first ones to be marketing that product.”
Gleason says that the strength of the relationships that ELFCO has with its employees and customers is the most important part of his job. “We look at our employees the same way we look at our customers,” says Gleason. “We treat our people well and they stay with us and the same goes for our customers; they’re very loyal to us as well. We have quite a few people who have been with us for more than 20 years and plenty who have been here more than 10 years.”
As the company moves forward, Gleason says he is content with where ELFCO is at in terms of size. “We’re comfortable with the number of employees we have right now,” says Gleason. “We’ve hired some summer help but the most important thing is that we are always taking care of our clients’ needs. There is some talk about possible expansion in the near future though.”
Throughout any changes in the future, ELFCO will continue to provide its clients with the highest quality products with exceptional customer service.
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