Michael Trotter Celebrates 25th Anniversary at CES
Before Michael Trotter joined CES in 1996, he already had nearly two decades of experience working for a family-owned distributor in North Carolina straight out of high school. When he heard about a new supplier coming into town that offered him an opportunity to run his own branch, Michael was skeptical — and so was his wife.
“I told my wife about City Electric Supply, and she was reluctant,” he laughed. “By the second interview, I knew this would be a promising company, but I also knew it’d require a lot of work.”
Even though Michael knew City Electric Supply had the potential to become a popular supplier, no one else did.
“No one in the Carolinas even knew who we were,” he joked. “We were really only in Florida at the time. Not many vendors wanted to work with you because they just didn’t know you.”
“It’s a big, big difference to where we are now,” he added. “In those early days, we used to write orders and inventory out on paper.”
And Michael knows better than most what it was like first starting out.
On top of an already-historic career, he has his own place in CES history. Michael’s branch, CES Matthews, was the very first location we opened in North Carolina.
“In 1996, we opened 32 branches in the Carolinas, and mine was the first one,” he said. “To me, seeing where we were and where we’re at now is a huge achievement. It gives me a much deeper appreciation for all the work that went into it. I don’t take any of the past 25 years for granted.”
Making the Switch
“I thought I’d never leave the first distributor I worked for,” Michael said. “But then I heard about how CES lets you run your own branch, hire your own people, and handle your own business in your own way.”
“I was hooked,” he added.
Michael chased the opportunity to grow his career — even when the vision for the next few years sounded crazy.
“The early years were a little questionable,” he laughed. “We’d have meetings, and we’d look at our growth over the next five years and how many branches we were going to add. In my head, I thought it was crazy. And then we hit every single goal we set — if not more.”
In the end, Michael came around. Eventually, the vendors did, too.
“I used to tell our vendors, ‘You better get on this ride and work with us,’” Michael remembered. “A few did, and a few didn’t. The ones that joined and worked with us as preferred vendors are really happy right now, I’m sure.”
A Good, Long Career & Maybe a Joke or Two
After 25 years, Michael Trotter has a few memories that stand out to him, but the one he remembers the most is actually when he wasn’t working at CES. It was when he was on vacation.
Current Co-COO John Gray was his district manager at the time, and he came onboard while Michael was on vacation in Myrtle Beach. What happened next surprised him.
“John Gray called me while I was on vacation and introduced himself,” he remembered. “He just told me to enjoy my time off and he was excited to meet me. It was a small gesture, but it was a breath of fresh air for someone who wanted to look after their employees.”
“Over the next 10 years or so, that memory stood out because it just explained so much about CES. You work hard and you have fun, but you also look after one another,” he added.
To this day, Co-COO John Gray and Michael stay in touch pretty regularly.
“I just had my 61st birthday, and he reached out to me. We know each other to the core from working so closely together in those early years. For me, working alongside him was a blessing in disguise.”
A lot of what Michael Trotter learned from John Gray he passed down to his own employees, creating a culture inside CES Matthews that he thinks John would be proud of.
“I always told people — friends and competitors — that we’re different for sure,” Michael said. “Our branch is a core group of guys, so the service you get is much more personalized. Every question gets resolved. Every customer comes first. I try to instill that in everyone who works at CES Matthews — customers are always first.”
That customer-first approach has helped CES Matthews become a consistently profitable branch, year after year. But it’s also Michael’s hands-on, every-detail-counts attitude that has helped the original North Carolina branch stand out.
“As a branch manager, I’m not just here to push paperwork,” he said. “For 25 years, I’ve been talking to customers and vendors and working the counter. I’m really outgoing and lighthearted, and people see that. If I can say a joke or two and make someone laugh and leave happy, it’s a good day.”
Paying It Forward
As a branch manager for 25 years, Michael Trotter has a lifetime of rewarding moments, but the ones he enjoys the most are when he gets to see previous employees go on to do bigger and better things.
“I always tell young people starting out, we’re always growing, and that means there’s always opportunity,” he said. “I’ve had drivers that are branch managers now. You never know where that next opportunity will take you.”
Even Michael’s sons worked at CES, too. (If only for a little while, at least.)
“They couldn’t work for me full-time for long,” he laughed, “but having that opportunity to show them what it’s like to work for a company that cared about them was really cool.”
And it’s not just his sons who appreciated the opportunity. Past employees regularly let him know how important he was to their families and their careers.
“Guys always tell me, ‘If you didn’t interview me at 18 years old, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today,’” he said. “All I did was give those guys a chance. You just never know whose life you’re going to change by giving them that chance.”
We’re glad that Michael gave us that chance, too.
Thank you for everything you’ve accomplished these last 25 years, Michael. We’re honored to have you still in charge of our first-ever branch in North Carolina!