Our ‘Wholesaler of the Month’ for July 2023 is CEF, Colchester.
With 390 stores nationwide and a 72-year history, CEF is one of British electrical wholesaling’s biggest success stories.
One of the branches that has played a part in this growth, particularly in the last decade, has been CEF Colchester.
We caught up with Assistant Manager, Trevor Daw, to talk about what has been behind the branch’s success, as well as the changes he’s seen in the company, wholesaling and LED dimming - in a career spanning 34 years.
Name: Trevor Daw
Position: Assistant Manager
Wholesaler: CEF (Colchester)
Trevor, could you tell us a bit more about your role?
I’m the Assistant Manager at CEF Colchester, which means that I do a bit of everything.
My main job is buying, but I also look after store staff on the counters, ensure that shelves are stocked properly, and make sure that customers are happy. I’m also involved in quoting and completing the odd delivery on the way home.
How did you start working with CEF Colchester – is your background in electrical wholesaling?
Not at all. When I left school, I was a trainee engineer at a factory that made ball bearings. However, when the company was bought out and the operation in Chelmsford was closed, I was made redundant.
I was looking for temporary work and started at CEF, with the intention of seeing how it went for a few months. 34 years later, I’m still here.
How much has CEF grown and changed in that time?
The whole company has changed drastically. Whereas at the start, we used to be very profit-driven, we’ve changed our approach a lot – in fact, it’s like working for a totally different company.
Colchester specifically used to be a small branch, but in the past 10-15 years, it’s become one of CEF’s biggest: quite rightly, because the town is massive.
I think it will only get bigger, too – it’s a credit to the account managers who keep pushing for that.
You mentioned it used to be quite ‘profit-driven’, but that’s not the focus now – what has been behind that change?
We changed based on feedback. Our customer service has always been a core focus of our work, but since Tom took the helm from his grandfather (the founder of the company) we’ve made that absolutely central.
Tom recognised how important the internet is, too. He knows people look at reviews of companies before they buy with them, so the quality of service they receive is there for everyone to see.
The internet as a whole has totally changed how CEF works.
You’re not the only wholesaler to have said that – would you say that’s the biggest single change in wholesaling since you started?
I would say so – the internet has allowed people to get information immediately.
That being said, with CEF, customers know that while price matters, the service they receive is equally important.
Moreover, when you buy online, some customers can’t wait 2-3 days to get what they ordered. They might not have the expertise to know everything about the product they’re buying either.
When you come to CEF, you can talk to a human being and get the product you need. That lets them do their job quickly and efficiently.
Is that how you’re navigating the competitive landscape at the moment?
Well, when we went online, we had to move from our facility a couple of years later because we outgrew the building. Then, not long after that, we had to build another building of the same size next to it.
I think that shows how much the internet matters – but it also shows the importance of stock.
If you have the stock, you’ll get the sales.
Being a private company, we also have the backing to invest in the long term. We know we won’t get an immediate return from those buildings – it takes years.
Fortunately, we have a forward-thinking family at the helm who see that. We don’t have to appeal to a shareholder looking for a quick profit.
Moving onto LEDs and LED dimming – how have you seen the technology change in your time?
It’s totally changed. When I first started, halogen and fluorescent lamps were the future. Next year, fluorescent lamps will be banned, and everything has shifted to LED.
LED is so much more efficient, and dimming is the more technical side of it.
You’ll sometimes find that people who make the dimmers blame the fitting for not working, and then people making the fitting will blame the dimmers for not working.
You don’t get that with Zano – when people want to test an LED, they can test it with Zano to see if it will dim.
Have you found there’s a specific kind of LED dimming job where you’ll always recommend Zano to a customer?
That happens often. It’s normally when people have more than 10 lamps - even 20, 40 or 50 – and they want to dim them from 2 or 3 different locations.
There aren’t many LED dimmer manufacturers who can offer that: Zano is the best one if you want to dim from multiple points.
It’s so easy to use as well. You just call up Zano, tell them your problem, and they’ll tell you what you need. It will work right off the shelf, too.
Have there been any recent products that has been flying off the shelf for you?
We stock the standard ZMO150 LED dimmer, which does about 80% of what you need, and you only need to go bigger if you have a higher wattage or more fittings. In that case, we tend to recommend the 5-250W/VA version, and that’s what we sell most of.
We’d like to thank Trevor for his time and congratulate CEF Colchester for being our Wholesaler of the Month.
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