Secret to Success
Founded in 1905, the Elyria-based company had grown to six locations by the 1930s, says owner Tim King, who was hired in 1983 as a truck driver earning $3 an hour. He bought into the company in 1997 and became the sole owner in 2002.
“The Elyria store was the only one to survive the Great Depression. They had a location in Ashtabula, and I can’t imagine what it took to get to Ashtabula in early 1900s,” says King, 52, who still keeps his first paycheck stub in his desk at the company’s headquarters on West Ridge Road.
Owned by multiple generations of the Wentz family, Superior Electric built its name as the largest and oldest independent electrical distributor in the county. In 1981, Bill Wentz — an airplane enthusiast and flyer — built the new facility on West Ridge because of its proximity to Lorain County Regional Airport. In 1984, Wentz developed some heart problems and sold the business to his two right-hand-men — Anson Russell and Fred Behm. Behm bought out Russell in 1993 and then King took over ownership 10 years later.
Under King’s leadership, Superior Electric has grown back from one location to three — two in Elyria and one in Strongsville — and he’s considering opening a fourth location in Toledo. He’s still the company’s No. 1 salesman, and he continues to service accounts with local companies that have been buying from Superior Electric for decades, such as Lake Erie Electric and P.C. Campana.
With more than 10,000 regularly stocked items, the wholesaler offers a comprehensive list of electrical materials for construction, commercial and industrial applications. Its major product lines include Square D panels, breakers and control apparatus, Sylvania/Osram and General Electric lamps, Ferraz Shawmut fuses, Lithonia Lighting, O-Z/Gedney and 3M. The company has 25 employees.
“Our business is about 70 percent commercial construction, 25 percent industrial and institutional with colleges, schools and nursing homes, and about 5 percent residential,” King says. “We have had our hand in the Cleveland stadiums — Jacobs Field, Gund Arena, the Browns stadium, as well as Cleveland Clinic buildings. The craziest one was [when] we sold the in-floor raceway system for the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia.”
King says the business from the schools and the hospitals carried the company through the economic meltdown of 2009.
“The phone stopped ringing, and people stopped coming in overnight. It was absolutely brutal,” he says, adding that he was forced to cut half of his staff and cut the pay of his remaining staff. He took a 30 percent pay cut and only this year reinstated his pay — he restored his employees’ pay in 2010. “Now our business is back to where it was before the recession, but we are staying at half the staff. We are doing a lot more with less. You adapt or you go away.”
Superior Electric also offers walk-in counter sales, energy management consulting, distribution and control design, custom lighting design, special orders and an after-hours emergency service, and a knowledgeable counter, inside and outside sales staff. The company’s fleet of trucks makes free daily delivery runs to customers in Erie, Lorain, Cuyahoga and Medina counties.