May 11, 2020
Jason Prevost has been Vice President Distribution Sales at Leviton for just over a year. Prior to that, he was Marketing Director and then Executive Vice President at STANDARD Products for nearly 15 years. Jason was also the first president of EFC’s Young Professionals Network and the first person to receive EFC’s Trailblazer Award. An inspiring leader who is always on top of market trends, Jason has been a member of CEW’s editorial board since the very beginning. He recently took time to discuss with us how his team is dealing with the very specific challenges raised by the pandemic and the impacts this pandemic could have on the market and technologies.
Jason said they began monitoring the situation in January with weekly management meetings discussing impacts on their supply chain, creating a task force to manage the challenges from a business perspective, as well as to ensure their people and customers were taken care of.
They set their employees up to work from home. And maintained a position of transparency with their salesforce because things were changing so rapidly. Creating an ‘open-environment’ so that the Leviton employees and customers felt comfortable sharing their concerns and voiced what they needed during what has become the new normal.
Their HR team reaches out to every employee making sure they have everything they need, and to just maintain a connection.
With employees not working from home they have staggered shifts in their warehouse to make it easier to social distancing. While also allowing flexibility in the hours they work. If one employee from a particular group tests positive the whole group will be sent home and quarantined for 2 weeks.
“We’re constantly insuring we’re protecting our people and our ability to service our customers,” he noted.
With respect to the market impact, Prevost said there will be uncertainty until a vaccine is available.
“It’s a difficult question to answer,” he said, when we asked about the impact COVID-19 may have on the industry looking ahead to the near future.
“You look at what economists are saying, and you’ve got to look at what the World Health Organization is saying… it’s going to be, in my opinion, an uncertain time until a vaccine is found.”
Many health professionals and politicians are concerned about a second wave of the virus, something that Jason echoed. As we start to reintegrate and lift some of the stay-at-home measures, particularly with the summer months coming, we’re vulnerable to a spike in cases. Which would obviously impact the industry’s ability to rebound.
“A lot of us are cautiously optimistic in hopes that we’ll see a ramp up (in the market), but how we do business is definitely going to change,” he said.
With respect to challenges in the lighting industry during COVID-19, right now, and how the market might respond moving forward, Prevost explained, “we are seeing a very difficult time as projects are delayed and many renovations may be put on hold as businesses look to secure liquidity in their businesses to help manage uncertain times. This is in line with the entire electrical market. I think companies that manufacture locally will have an advantage as they are better able to control the supply and demand side and scale the business as needed based on requirements.”
He continued on how the pandemic could trend toward a focus on hygiene, “one thing this pandemic has shown is that the health and safety of people are critical to maintain business continuity. With the development of LED and now the further integration of health and wellness into the LED light spectrum I hope companies will now start to specify these products and move away from the commodity package. Today we have the ability to protect our people, our health care works, our staff using LED lighting to fight and kill bacteria. All we need to start doing is including this into our workplaces.”
“We all have a role to play and a responsibility to protect each other and these new technologies can help kick start this but we as an industry need to start that change by shifting the conversation from price to advantages.”
The use of technology, Jason noted – video conferencing, ecommerce and the overall digital footprint of companies will likely increase and alter the way business is conducted in the industry. The longer we are required to work from home, the more normal digital interactions will become. With respect to electrical wholesale, many companies have begun transitioning to more of an online presence from an ecommerce perspective. That will likely become more prominent moving forward, particularly as customers get used to doing business that way. But it may also impact how business is done internally. Group meetings and even sales being conducted digitally.
“There may be a shift in how we sell,” he said, moving forward. In terms of communicating with customers as well as working alongside end users installing products. When it comes to training and troubleshooting, there may be an impetus towards remote operations. “There’s a lot of opportunities to potentially better service our customers.”
As for the current right now, Jason said, “we’ve been in communications with our customers via technology. Whether its GoTo Meetings, virtual training, virtual meetings, virtual lunches with our customers,” but its not all business, “we know empathy goes a long way during these times. Part of it is, yes, staying contact from a business perspective, but the other part is staying in contact from a personal perspective and I think that is just as important in these uncertain times.”
“That’s a message we send to our people: connect with your contractors, your engineers, your architects, your distributors and don’t always connect on the business side, that’s not the right approach.”
“Making sure their well being is there, their families are doing well and just wishing them well, at times, and not even talking business, is the right approach.”
That is something Jason said they know is appreciated and that added thoughtfulness can go a long way in establishing a stronger business connection.
Right now, the current market varies by province, Jason said. Out west and Saskatchewan have not been hit quite as hard as Ontario, Quebec and the east coast.
The stay-at-home orders and states of emergency are beginning to be opened up, which is reflected in the construction permits.
“We’re seeing that in the west there’s less of an impact than some of the aggressive positions that the provincial governments have taken in Ontario and Quebec. We’re seeing a lot more of the delays and the impacts on the east coast – Ontario and straight through to the Atlantic.”
I do think as things start to come out of this stay-at-home order, we’ll see a bit of a pickup in Quebec and Ontario.” But looking at Alberta the oil prices, Jason said there will be some challenges from that.
“It’s going to be a teeter-totter with the provinces on how quickly they can pick up, because there’s a lot of delays in projects that are on-the-go.”
As of April 23rd, there was 350 projects delayed in Ontario and over 1000 delayed in Quebec, noted Jason.
“The hope is, as these stay-at-home orders are lifted, we’ll see these projects pick up in momentum and that will be very beneficial to the electrical industry.”
Ultimately, when it comes to doing business in an uncertain time such as we are in, Jason said there’s a delicate give and take to be struck between going the extra-mile for clients, customers, partners, end-users etc. and protecting your business. There needs to be a level of trust when it comes to financial leeway but at the same time you need to protect yourself from vulnerability.
“In uncertain times like this – you see it through our leaders, and you see it through our business, I think people at this time need to put egos and attitudes aside and keep an open mind.”
Blake Marchand is Associate Editor with Kerrwil Electrical Group