Wheeler Electric Inc.
Dick Wheeler founded Wheeler Electric Inc. (WEI) in 1962 as a small, but diverse electrical contractor in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Based in a small community, Dick knew that his growing business could not afford to ignore certain sectors of the electrical market.
Dick passed that notion down to his sons Jeff and Doug Wheeler, who purchased the business from their father when he retired. Doug has also since retired, selling his portion of the company to his son and nephew. Jeff, current president of WEI, now operates the business and balances growth with preparing the third generation for continued family ownership.
“One thing that sets us apart is that we have been around for a long time,” Jeff explains. “We celebrated our 50-year anniversary in 2012. We have built that longevity because we have a great team of employees who help us to be successful. We do a fair amount of work for the government, as well as the commercial and industrial sectors. We do new systems and maintenance. We have three service trucks for small projects. Our team of 130 electricians has diverse experience and we basically do every type of electrical work there is.”
WEI performs a wide variety of electrical work. “We do tele-data cable, fiber-optics, traffic signals, highway lighting, runway and airport lighting and other services,” Jeff elaborates. “We don’t necessarily have established divisions, but we do cover the whole gambit of electrical because we live in a unique area. There are not many contractors who can do these projects so we have stepped up to perform this kind of work.”
Most of the company’s business is concentrated in Idaho, although the crew travels frequently for contracts. “Right now we are doing a job in Arizona,” Jeff notes. “Over the years we have traveled many places. It is not uncommon for us to travel for repeat customers or new ones.”
On the homefront alone, the crew has had a busy few years. “In 2011, we performed a lighting retrofit for many of the school districts around the state,” Jeff recounts. “Most of them were in our neck of the woods. That was an exciting project and we were happy to be involved in the upgrade to those schools. The districts were very appreciative of that work. Just recently, we also completed work for a new high school, Rigby High School. That was a nice job and it was really state-of-the-art.”
Jeff continues on to explain that the team tackles many projects for the Department of Energy at the Idaho National Lab. “We cannot really elaborate much on those projects, but they have all been interesting with their own challenges,” he explains.
The team was involved with a wind farm project at Mountain Home, Idaho, last summer. “We built a substation and put in all of the underground high voltage cable,” he continues. “That was for the Mountain Air Wind Farm.”
At WEI, Jeff and his team are always doing something different. During the downturn, however, the team struggled to stay ahead. “The economic downturn was hard on us,” he explains. “We’re obviously not out of it yet, but we’re doing much better than we were. There wasn’t as much work going on, but still the same amount of competition was there. Basically, we’ve tried to tighten our belt and look at jobs closer and better. We focused on monitoring the flow of the work and coordinating our manpower. It also gets old, working at the status quo. If you’re not getting ahead or making money, it’s hard to keep working at a flat line.”
To stay on track, Jeff and his team have tapped into the company’s greatest resources: relationships. WEI works with many long-term subcontractors and suppliers who help manage quality output, as well as overhead. The business is also a member of National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), a network for support and growth within the industry.
Jeff has acted as governor in the association for four years. “I act as the voice for all of the contractors in our chapter on the national level,” he explains. “We are all competitors. It’s an oddity. We’ll go and have a meeting with them, getting lunch or dinner together. That very day, they could have been the low bidder on the job we bid and we could have bid second. It’s a little tough, but we all get through it. The organization allows us to gain some insight from one another that help us all be better contractors.”
With strong backup, WEI is on track for growth. Jeff and his team have a lot of work coming down the pipeline, including a major project for Brigham Young University; the team will be constructing a new Central Energy Facility on campus as the school transitions from coal heat to natural gas. All of this work is boosting margins, though Jeff says some indicators are just more important than money.
“The volume of work is important,” he explains. “We have to take in money to move ahead, not sideways or backward. What really tells us we are doing well is that we are hanging onto our key employees. That is a big deal and it has allowed us to boost our longevity. Our team can get the job done right. We can be competitive and still give our clients our best.” With a strong, long-term team, Wheeler Electric Inc. remains dedicated to moving forward with memorable, high quality electrical projects.
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