From the first analog devices to today’s highly technical digital components, electrical engineering has always been about pushing the boundaries of functionality and inspiring the imagination with new design possibilities. And whether in Maker communities or long-standing businesses, people are what make this electrical discovery possible.
We recently announced that Arena PartSaver is partnering with Jameco Electronics to make shopping for electronic components easier. But what we didn’t mention is that Jameco Electronics is an exceptional example of one of the oldest sayings in business—the customer comes first.
Jameco Electronics has been in the electronic components industry for over 35 years, and in the process, has witnessed a lot of changes in how distributors relate to their customers. We sat down with Greg Harris, vice president of sales and marketing at Jameco Electronics, to learn more about how the company has paired modern solutions like e-commerce with more personable approaches to reaching its audience.
Interview with Jameco Electronics—a leading electronics component distributor for over 35 years
Alyssa: As e-commerce becomes increasingly influential in driving sales, how has Jameco married its traditional mail-order catalog with its online website sales strategy?
Greg: When Jameco started out in 1974 as a direct distributor of electronic components, we relied on mail-order catalogs and good old-fashioned telephones to sell our stock. As time has marched on, online sales have become increasingly important in our business strategy, and we now get nearly two thirds of our revenue from our website alone. Today, we use both platforms together to reach our customers and add value to the shopping experience.
We still maintain and regularly update our 200-page mail-order catalog, but we’ve tried to create a catalog that makes using the web a little easier. Using web codes, catalog readers can quickly jump to the corresponding web presentation for more products, updated prices and the latest availability without the difficulty of having to search for anything.
Alyssa: Offering low prices is a core value proposition for Jameco—how do you manage to keep prices lower than competitors?
Greg: We aggressively price our SKUs below the competition with two main approaches. The first is simple. We take the time to identify market cost for a component, and then ensure that we set our price lower.
Our second approach is to offer house brands, which provide the same functionality as brand name components but at a discounted price. For a customer to buy a generic component, he or she needs to trust that there is very low risk in exchange for the lower price point. We take the time to choose house brands that are high quality and reliable, but we combine this with an industry leading warranty, Jameco’s reputation and an easy return policy.
Alyssa: How did you decide that partnering with Arena PartSaver was the right move for your customers?
Greg: Because our industry has over two million electronic SKUs—which is more than any one distributor carries in full—shoppers typically visit several distributors to find the right SKU for a project. The PartSaver widget is a great compliment for people shopping for electronic parts because it provides a single place to store part information and comparison-shop.
For people who work with multiple distributors, PartSaver gives shoppers the convenience of one-stop shopping, and makes it much easier to start a parts list.
Alyssa: How have technological advancements in recent years changed the electronics industry and how people shop for parts?
Greg: Many experts forecasted that the world of do-it-yourself electronics would suffer as electronic components became more sophisticated. We find that many of the products we’ve sold for decades are growing in sales among hobbyists who want to design stuff without special equipment. More and more people are finding joy in building electronic gadgets and creating something new; it doesn’t matter that you may be able to buy a similar product at the local drugstore.
Electronic hobbyists comprise a major part of our Jameco customer base, so we intentionally stock components that cater best to the needs and price sensitivities of this constituency. Jameco makes an effort to carry parts that some engineers consider to be more old-school, because the circuit boards hobbyists require are typically larger and easier to handle in a home garage or work studio. We also organize our catalog by functionality rather than manufacturer, because this reflects how most hobbyists shop for parts.
Alyssa: Do you have any advice for a company that wishes to improve relationships with customers?
Greg: A few years back, the management team at Jameco made a commitment to connecting with customers. We established an email address for any customer to send a message to the executive team, and we made a promise to reply to every email we received within four business hours. We don’t always hit that goal perfectly, but the executive team dedicates a significant part of each day responding to customers. Initially it was hard, but we concluded that there is no better way to improve your business than by listening to customers. We’ve made hundreds of changes just by giving customers direct access.
For a unique story about the unexpected benefits of reading customer emails, check out Greg’s own blog post, Listen & Learn.