Branch Manager Terri Free: 20 Years at CES Gainesville East
When Terri Free interviewed at half a dozen competing electrical distributors in Gainesville, Florida, City Electric Supply (CES) made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Twenty years later, she continues as branch manager of CES Gainesville East.
Learn what won over Free, how she enhanced customer relationships, and why she thinks CES is unlike any other electrical wholesaler.
Free’s Journey to Discover a Better Culture in the Electrical Wholesaler Industry
Free started in the electrical industry by working for a manufacturer of electrical enclosures. When that company was sold and moved out of state, she used her existing relationships to find a position on the distributor side.
“I started with GE Supply in Jacksonville in a commercial inside sales position. Then I transferred to Gainesville as an industrial sales and operations manager to help a branch that wasn’t doing well at the time,” said Free. “The branch started performing well, and then September 11th happened. When it came time to make those hard decisions, it was more about the numbers and not who was involved.”
Facing yet another store closure, Free reached out to at least half a dozen competing electrical wholesalers.
“All of the distributors were within a bicycle ride of each other. So, I interviewed with pretty much all of them, and City Electric Supply made the best offer.”
How did CES win her over? “It was really about the company itself.”
She explained, “My previous company had purchasing groups, which meant they bought in bulk for all locations in an area to save money. But then we would have material in our branch that never moved because nobody in our area needed it.”
At CES, however, branch teams stock locations specifically to serve their community.
“Though there were many branches, each location was still largely independent. I liked the freedom to better support customers over here, and they offered growth in my career. Within a couple of years, I took on the position of branch manager.”
Making Customer Service the Number One Priority at CES Gainesville East
As the new branch manager, Free immediately set a goal to enhance the branch’s existing customer relationships.
“I called each customer individually, introduced myself, and told them how excited I was and looked forward to working with them. Then I asked if we could sit down and go over their account. They genuinely appreciated getting on a better budget and have fewer outstanding payments.”
She also led her team toward a better understanding of customers’ needs.
“We all worked hard to get to know the customers, not just sell to them. We would ask, ‘What kind of products would you like us to stock that supports your business?’”
And Free provided new strategies to take customer service above and beyond.
“I explained to my team that the return business is almost more important than the initial sale. If we don’t take care of the service after the sale, we have a problem.”
The hard work paid off and continues to, to this day.
“It’s nice to have customers come in and say, ‘We’ve been all over town, and you’re the best.’ We get a lot of compliments about how hard we’re working to supply stock. And we’re blessed to get along with the other branches and share inventory.”
Experience and Advice for Those Interested in the Electrical Wholesale Industry
Free spoke about several important lessons she’s learned throughout her career.
“When I started in the industry, some people didn’t think there was a place for me in this business. But we women are smart and capable and really end up bringing it. Those same people were later disappointed to lose me when I took another opportunity.”
She also suggests that those interested in joining the industry should look into City Electric Supply first for several reasons.
“CES appreciates hard work, integrity, and accountability. If you work hard for them, they work hard for you too. This company genuinely cares about your goals and dreams and encourages you.”
And Free proudly looks forward to her future at City Electric Supply.
“My goal is to work for CES as long as possible because I love my job and position. We still have so much growth potential. As the economy and world are changing, I think we’re coming off on the right side of history.”
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