Q&A: Inside North Coast Electric’s New CDC - Modern Distribution Management

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Q&A: Inside North Coast Electric’s New CDC

MDM speaks with North Coast Electric President Cory McCulloch to discuss his company's new DC in Auburn, Washington and the Sonepar subsidiary's plans for the future.

Seattle-based Sonepar subsidiary North Coast Electric recently opened a new distribution center in Auburn, Washington. The 285,000-square-foot consolidated distribution center is a representation of the company’s ambitious growth plans, according to North Coast President Cory McCulloch, and part of Sonepar’s $2 billion investment in supply chain automation worldwide. Sonepar ranked No. 2 on MDM’s Electrical, Data & Security Distributors list in 2022.

Cory McCullogh

MDM spoke with McCulloch about the new facility’s key features and how it bolsters the electrical distributor’s logistics capabilities.

MDM: Cory, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

McCulloch: I’ve been with North Coast Electric for 40 years. I joined on as a driver and worked my way to President in 2021. It’s the only company I have worked for since college.

MDM: What led North Coast Electric to open its new CDC in Auburn, Washington?

McCulloch: It started off as a growth strategy because we outgrew our Seattle and Kent, Washington facilities. To remain competitive and succeed as a distributor built for the future, we focused on three key components of the plan: 1) a CDC model, 2) a strong digital platform, and 3) a branch density strategy.

North Coast Electric’s new 285,000-square-foot consolidated distribution center (CDC) in Auburn, Washington significantly boosts the Sonepar subsidiary’s logistics capabilities in the Northwest U.S. and Canada. Source: North Coast Electric.

MDM: As a result of the supply chain automation investment, what changes are you seeing in your business?

McCulloch: We’ve greatly increased the speed of our operations and nearly eliminated errors entirely. Our picks increased from 20 lines/hour up to 200 lines/hour post automation. And our accuracy is 99.9%. We now carry up to 14,000 products – offering the greatest breadth in our market. Technology enables us to better service our customers, create a better work environment for our associates, and be a better growth platform for our supplier partners.

MDM: Does the CDC enable further expansion?

McCulloch: Not only does the new CDC contribute to our growth goals, but the facility also gives us the capability to expand the number of branch locations in our geography. We will begin to serve Alaska from Auburn, Washington, in June of this year which will cut down on transportation costs and increase our inventory service levels throughout the Alaska territory we serve.

Source: North Coast Electric

MDM: A big change sometimes requires upskilling or reskilling people. Have you encountered this?

McCulloch: Going from a traditional warehouse to a CDC requires a new leadership mindset. The days of having only warehouse manager and a dispatcher are gone. The leadership structure is vital to your success in operating a world-class CDC. We have hired more associates with different skillsets, including mechanics, a facilities/sustainability manager, safety officer, quality control and continuous improvement manager, and most important, the director of the CDC.

Part of the equation in creating the automated, digitalized infrastructure needed to be in best-in-class. The other part of the equation is to provide the best training and standardized operating procedures that allows us to scale our efforts efficiently and effectively.

MDM: Globally, Sonepar stated in mid-April that they have launched a major digital transformation initiative. What progress has North Coast made there?

McCulloch: Sonepar gave North Coast the digital platform that was needed to compete in our market. We have gone from 0% of our revenue coming from online sales to 26.6% in just two years. One of the key tools in this platform is called the Digital Job Center. This job management tool is unique in the industry today and offers so much to our contractors that our competition does not.

Source: North Coast Electric

MDM: North Coast was acquired by Sonepar in 2019. What has integration been like?

McCulloch: North Coast knew right away that Sonepar was going to be the right partner both strategically and culturally. It was a very balanced collaboration. We immediately focused on not who was right but what was right for our people, customers, and our future. The integration really was seamless. Sonepar has invested millions of dollars into our success, and, in return, North Coast has provided some best-in-class processes and disciplines.

Source: North Coast Electric

MDM: You talked about having a 10-year strategic plan. What else is on the horizon for North Coast?

McCulloch: The 10-year strategic plan heavily focuses on doubling our locations in the next 10 years. We also reevaluated our vision statement, which is now, “To become the most customer-centric electrical distributor in the geographies we serve.”  We have also broken down our growth strategy into three strategic growth plans for key customer segments: large contractor, residential contractor, and industrial. We aim for North Coast to be a billion-dollar company by the end of 2026.

Finally, sustainability is incredibly important to our associates and something they look forward to working on. We are committed to decreasing our carbon footprint and increasing our sustainability efforts. North Coast is also working very hard on initiatives to make us a more diverse and inclusive company, which has given us access to broader talent pools and provided us with a more vibrant work environment. For example, we have one of the largest women’s employee resource groups within Sonepar and we’re very focused on increasing the number of females joining, staying, and getting promoted at North Coast.


Below, see additional facility photos and a company profile video posted by North Coast Electric:

Source: North Coast Electric
Source: North Coast Electric

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