Atlantic Coast Electric Supply (ACES) is a locally-owned and operated distributor of electrical supplies in North and South Carolina. The company, which began with three locations—Greenville and Charleston in South Carolina and Concord, North Carolina—was purchased in 2016 by John Marshall, president and owner.
In March 2019, ACES opened a fourth location in Columbia, South Carolina, and celebrated the official grand opening in May. For Marshall, it made sense to open a location in Columbia because the site is centrally located and has a strong, experienced team managing it. Just two months after opening, the Columbia location turned a profit.
ACES’ key to success is being a local business that is committed to strong customer relationships. “Our growth has been phenomenal,” Marshall said. “In the past three years, we have tripled our revenues.”
Marshall, who has always dreamed of owning a business, had 30 years of industry experience prior to purchasing ACES. Before acquiring the company, he spent time running large distributors. He served as a regional president for U.S. Electrical Services Inc., as well as chief operating officer of Capital Electric. “Now, as a business owner, the things I pay attention to are different, like access to capital and cash flow. I also find myself making decisions for the long-term versus month to month or quarter to quarter,” he said.
When Marshall purchased the company in 2016, there were 27 employees and over the past three years he has hired an additional 16 staff members. “My team is very motivated to provide exceptional customer service and that’s one thing that sets ACES apart,” he said.
The executive management team is made up of long-time industry veterans, who have a passion for providing excellent customer service and for fostering a culture that is relationship-driven. Coyt Parker, area manager, West, was hired to run the Columbia operation, and oversees Greenville and Concord. Vice President Area Manager, East, Casey Getz, joined ACES when the company was acquired and oversees the Charleston location and coastal region.
Marshall met with Getz several times prior to purchasing ACES and added, “With his previous experience owning a supply house in Beaufort, South Carolina, Casey gave me the confidence that together we could resolve issues with the Charleston branch and take it to a new level. I’m not sure I would have acquired the company had I not crossed paths with Casey.”
Other members of the executive team include Judy Matthews, credit manager; Randall Wilson, controller; Charlie Reid, purchasing manager; Gary Bolduc, IT manager; Larry Parks, branch manager of Greenville and Todd Langford, branch manager of Concord.
Maintaining a company culture where employees are engaged is important to Marshall. “Our people are our differentiator,” he said. “They are ACES’ greatest asset. I’m really proud to work with an exceptional team of hardworking and dedicated people, who are committed to going above and beyond to exceed customer expectations.”
Marshall fosters a workplace where his employees know they are a part of ACES’ success. The management team regularly shares sales and gross margin information, as well as branch and company profit insights with employees.
The team’s hard work is recognized and rewarded with a company-wide incentive plan (at the inside and counter sales levels), as well as a branch profit-sharing plan that can substantially increase employees’ compensation.
“I want every employee to have a vested interest in our success and to share ideas that will help us win customers,” he added.
With a customer mix that’s 60% commercial, 30% residential and 10% industrial/institutional, ACES competes with large national distributors. “We are a local, relationship-driven business focused on delivering outstanding service—we can compete with any size company and win customers,” Marshall said. “We provide creative solutions, value and nurture relationships with our customers and empower employees to make decisions at the local level—that’s what sets us apart.”
Marshall notes that ACES’ challenge is helping customers overcome their biggest challenge—labor shortage. “We make sure we are doing everything we can to make their job easier, particularly when it comes to timing and the delivery and placement of materials,” he said. “We also keep them informed about new products that can save time and labor, and our customers recognize that added value we provide.”
Looking to the future, ACES is focusing on becoming the top distributor in its current markets. From there, the company will look for opportunities to expand. ACES is currently preparing to launch a new website, expanding its social media presence and delving into the e-commerce space.
“Larger distributors have been focused on e-commerce for years and ACES is looking forward to breaking into that space,” Marshall said. “Since search capabilities are still being fine-tuned, most contractors who we talk to don’t heavily use online stores to make purchases because it’s typically faster to work with a salesperson. But e-commerce is only a few years away from being an important part of our business, and we want to be ready with a solution that can compete.”
In addition to fostering a relationship-driven culture—keeping customers happy and employees motivated, Marshall said the company’s IMARK membership has been pivotal in its success by providing networking opportunities, offering a rebate program and helping to kickstart new initiatives like the e-commerce program.
“The IMARK staff is a tremendous resource for us,” Marshall said. “I can always call and get advice about an issue. If they don’t have the answer, they’ll put me in touch with a member who can answer my questions. The members and staff have been so helpful in recommending vendors or product lines and answering any questions along the way—IMARK is an invaluable resource.”