Case Studies

Emory Electric Inc.

Lighting Up the Southeast

Tim Emory grew up in his father’s electrical company, Emory Electric Inc. “My father started the company in 1978. Back in those days he did mostly residential.  I was wiring houses at a very young age. I was studying business administration in college, so I kept the company books. I came on full-time in 1984 after I graduated from college. My father retired about five years ago.”   Now Tim is the Asheville, N.C.-based company’s president and full owner.

Striving Despite Recession

Since its inception, Emory Electric has spread its services throughout eight states: North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. “We have a branch in Greenville, S.C., but about 75 percent of our work is within two-and-a-half hours from Asheville. We also have jobs in Florida, Tennessee and Georgia right now,” says Tim.

Tim says his company does primarily commercial business, but also some residential, service and industrial work, which is often offered through the design-build delivery method. Within its sectors, Emory Electric has two major focuses. The first is retail work. “We do a lot of grocery stores. We have a customer here for a regional grocery chain that we do a lot of work for,” he shares. The second area of expertise is university work. “But we do a little of everything,” Tim reinforces. “We also have recently gotten into solar, doing photovoltaic panels. We’re looking at green energy and lighting retrofits.

And Emory has been holding strong with its skills in the industry for many years. “Before the economy issues hit finding qualified skilled electricians was our biggest challenge. We have a training program now to help with that problem,” says Tim.

Now the company’s biggest challenge, like so many companies, is the financial climate. “But I’m hearing from one of my competitors in the southeast we’re doing a lot better than others. They’ve gone from 150 to 30 employees. There’s still some work out there, but it’s so competitive they’re bidding below what we see is cost, and it’s very inefficient,” says Tim.

While Emory is doing better than some of its competitors, it has not survived the recession unscathed. “We’re about 125 employees, but we went down a little bit from 160,” Tim explains. “We were doing about $17 million in 2008; that was our biggest year. In 2009 we did about $15 million and 2010 will probably be around the same.”

Even though its numbers are down, Emory is supported by its skilled employees, who follow a strict safety program to handle much of the work in-house.  “We will sub out sometimes the systems – fire alarms, low-voltage – but all the conventional high-voltage we do ourselves,” he explains.

Managing material costs has become an important part of the business. “About five years ago when there were increases in steel costs, we started watching raw materials very closely. Some of the things we put in place were some purchasing agreements with key suppliers, so we locked in our pricing,” Tim shares.”We use the same vendors repeatedly – there are three or four key ones we’ve partnered up with and done business with for many years – and it’s a win-win for both sides.”

Making Use of the Past, Looking Toward the Future

These fixed prices make winning bids easier, especially in a more competitive economy. “One of our large, recent projects is an 800-bed dormitory at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. That’s a $5 million electrical contract,” says Tim.

And Emory has had many successful projects over many years. One particularly memorable project that still generates mention was completed 15 years ago. “It was a Co-Generation project. We teamed with the owner and put in a separate power source to help cut the peak energy load. That was very interesting,” says Tim. “We also redid a historical baseball park site about 15 years ago. It’s been there since the 1800s and now has a local minor league baseball team.”

Currently, the company is finishing a new basketball arena for University of North Carolina at Asheville. “It’s a very high-tech, very beautiful arena,” says Tim.

Shortly down the pipeline Emory will add a highly notable notch to its list of accomplishments. “We’re doing our first substantial military project – the Joint Armed Forces Center. It’s a military training center in Columbia, S.C., so that will be an interesting project,” Tim shares. “And we’ve got a new high school coming up, pretty standard.”

Tim does not look toward one specific project for the company’s performance indicators. “The success rate for bids is okay, and a big one is negotiated work through customer relations; we get a lot of repeat business. Part of our mission statement is that we will do work for our customers again. So we’re keeping those relationships intact and maintained and growing,” says Tim.

With these relationships holding strong, Tim can focus his concerns on other topics, like worrying about the economy and legislative changes. “I’ve been a board member of the North Carolina Association of Electrical Contractors for many years.  So now I’m looking at healthcare, card checks otherwise known as EFCA, the Employee Free Choice Act, and where the country is going economically. And with 125 employees I’m responsible for those people and keeping them working,” says Tim. “Things will loosen up and we will have real slow growth in the future; however, some competitors that haven’t been managed as well are falling by the wayside and that will lead to more opportunities for strong companies.”

With that silver lining perspective of the future, Tim is making plans to capture some possible opportunities. “I’m considering opening another branch in the Southeast within the next 18 months. We’ve identified some markets we’d like to get into,” he says. “We adjusted our business model last fall and decided to put more emphasis on business development and looking to do more things like the solar, green energy arena. And I’m looking to hire one or two key people. There are opportunities out there for top performers and we want to bring on key players at this time.”

While the company has many plans for the future, Tim plans to move the company forward cautiously. “We’re pretty conservative; we want to grow, but we want slow and steady growth that is market-driven. In this economy we haven’t tried to force it, but when we see things turn around we will start to expand.”

Led by Tim’s careful approach to well-timed opportunities, Emory Electric Inc. will improve its premiere position in its electrical markets, while eyeing expanding to a wider target area.

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