B&B Electrical – Longtime Campground Focus
In 1968, Rick Linnell started an electrical supply business, B&B Electrical, in metro Detroit. He had a storefront that sold electrical products and he even manufactured a few things. Over the years, he became more aware of the need for electric pedestals in campgrounds and mobile home parks and began investing in such properties, expanded B&B’s distribution services and eventually become solely a distributor. Today, he mentors the company, which is still family-owned and operated.
This is the point in the story where one might expect to hear that now, 35 years later, the company has expanded its staff exponentially, has opened several more locations and grown to become a significant presence in the industry. Plus, there may be a nostalgic description of the owner family’s long-standing involvement in its operations, such as the children helping to answer the phones at a young age.
But this isn’t another rendition of the predictable corporate success story. B&B Electrical has one small office, located in Keego Harbor, Mich., which houses four whole employees. Two executives are family and one is a long-time family friend, but they’ve only been running the company for a year and a half; the only phones they were answering as children were from Fisher Price.
The one part of the fairy-tale scenario that’s applicable, though, is the depth of the company’s presence in the campground industry. B&B Electrical is an international distributor with deep contacts and connections all over the United States and Canada, and while the staff is new and few, they’re already specialists in what B&B has come to be very well-known for over the past three and a half decades.
That scenario began with chance and flourished with good advice and hard work, according to Terry Linnell, director of marketing and sales, who runs B&B Electrical with her brother-in-law Matt Linnell, vice president, and Jen McBurney, operations manager.
“It was just a coincidence that Matt was transitioning from a long-term career with a cable business in Detroit at the same time Jen was at a job she wasn’t really crazy about and I had a bunch of kids at home and wanted to get out of the house a little bit,” she laughed. “The stars just all aligned where we could take this on.”
Rick may have been the one who wished on those stars, because they aligned thus just as he was ready to retire, although he’s still involved – whether he intended it that way or not, Terry said. “We call him semi-retired. We won’t let him completely hang it up. He’s a brilliant guy and he has such a wealth of knowledge,” she stated. “He’s a huge traveler, but when he’s not on extended vacations, he’s in the office and we take advantage of that time.”
What B&B Electrical’s employees say they offer is a blending of the best attributes of old and new, large and small: The fruits of decades of relationship-building and a good reputation in the industry combined with forward-thinking plans and youthful energy; the personal service and low overhead of a small company with the expertise, support and capabilities of a large one. The amalgamation of all these, they assert, makes B&B one of a kind.
“We’re unique because we are the only distributor that we know of that has support directly from the three main manufacturers of RV pedestals,” Terry said, referring to Missouri-based Milbank, Pennsylvania-based Eaton and Midwest Electric Products Inc. in Montana. “It’s not easy to become a distributor of these companies. They’re very particular. Rick just always ran a very tight business, always paid on time, and earned their trust. And we’ve kept those same relationships.”
One particular benefit of that for their clientele, they said, is unusually fast turnaround in getting information from those manufacturers. “If we don’t have an answer for someone, we can get that answer almost immediately,” said Terry. “Our customers don’t have to wait very long because our support system at these companies is awesome. We have direct ports to every manufacturer – including manufacturers for lighting, wire, you name it.”
Another thing they say is unusual about B&B Electrical is the scope of its services. They can evaluate a park and come up with a full-system solution with planning for easy future upgrades, and then they can furnish every piece of equipment involved – even fully handling tricky international shipping processes and paperwork.
“It’s not always really easy to distribute to Canada, but we’ve actually supplied some pretty big parks and orders up there, such as Oceanside in New Brunswick and Bas Saint-Laurent KOA in Quebec. We just did a huge park in Alaska where we had to take some major extra steps to get that product to that customer, and they were very pleased,” Terry explained. “We take care of all the paperwork for the customer so they don’t have to. We want to make things as easy for them as possible.”
And any size order is no problem, Terry said – not just big orders, but small ones too. “We have supplied to one park in particular that by the end of this project, it’ll be 400 pedestals and over 50,000 feet of wire, plus all their distribution equipment,” she described. “We’re ecstatic to get those orders, but we also have no minimum requirement. If someone wants to order a breaker or one electric meter, we’re happy to deal with those too, and those customers are just as important to us.”
In looking ahead and taking B&B Electrical into the future, the Linnells said the campground customer is gaining increased importance and it’s somebody they want to know personally, thereby putting deeper involvement with the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) and attendance at even more campground owner shows at the top of their priority list.
“We’re much more recognized at the shows in Michigan, but we want to change that and be recognized at just about every show that we go to,” explained Matt. “In Michigan, a lot of them will say, ‘Oh, B&B, I remember you guys, how are you, nice to meet you,’ that kind of stuff. We want to be able to do that at every convention we attend and every visit we make.”
In doing so, Terry said, they’ll be carrying on Rick’s practice of establishing valuable and cooperative relationships with their business partners, as well as becoming more attuned to shifts in consumer demand. “We want to get to know the RV park owners more and what they need so we can service them better,” she said. “For example, we’re expanding our marina market because more RV park owners also have marinas, so we’re getting more involved as far as what they need for that kind of equipment.”
Matt said it comes naturally for them to connect with campground owners. “We feel a bit of a relationship with them because a lot of times in the RV community, businesses are ‘mom and pop’-owned or family-owned, and so are we,” he said.
Another thing the folks at B&B have in common with these customers, Terry said, is doing the job for love rather than big money. “We keep it about as lean as you can imagine,” she said of their own operations. “And RV park owners, I think, aren’t in it to get rich. They’re not there to make a million bucks. In fact, a lot of people are still working elsewhere 40 hours a week and this is their side job. They’re at their RV parks because that’s where they want to be.”
And taking care of the park owners is where B&B Electrical wants to be. For more information on B&B Electrical, visit www.bbelec.com or call (888) 391-3802.