Meet an entrepreneur whose visionary spark has led to a vibrant and growing business in electrical work, and discover what unique niche this business has filled.
Rich Gibbons knows that when the storms of life come, it’s important to have a backup plan to help you navigate challenges. It’s one reason he enjoys specializing in the sale and servicing of backup generators. His business also provides general electrical services like wiring, repairs, lighting installation or circuit breaker expansions to residential customers throughout northern Illinois.
“The generator portion of the business complements the electrical side of the business well,” Gibbons says. “Our success comes from three things. People are looking for fairness with pricing, knowledgeable electricians, and quick and responsive service. We try to meet all of those things.”
Gibbons provides free estimates for potential customers and is licensed, bonded and insured.
Like many other successful business owners, Gibbons changed careers more than once before finding his true calling.
He moved with his family to Illinois from New York in 1973. He started out working in the restaurant business and later worked as a service operations manager for a company called Danka, where he engaged in “a lot of office equipment repair work.”
During his time at Danka, he was exposed to many aspects of business such as sales, inventory, human resources and customer relations.
Gibbons married wife Joyce 25 years ago, and the couple has four children. As his family started to grow in size, he realized he didn’t want to travel as much as the job with Danka required. So in 1999, he completely changed careers and went into the electric business with his brother, Pat.
Then, in 2001, as that business diversified and Gibbons found himself spread too thin, he decided to take over the residential electric and generator side of the company, while his brother focused on commercial customers.
His experiences as a service operations manager at Danka helped him to prepare for the moment when he ventured out on his own.
Gibbons prefers to run a sharply focused small business, rather than attempt to be everything to everyone.
“It’s much easier to stay a smaller company,” he says. “You don’t have to be a big company to be successful.”
At about the same time he shifted his focus to residential work, Gibbons also began building up the standby generator portion of his business and, in 2000, purchased a small generator company called Stalit.
Standby generators are a necessity for many people, says Gibbons. When storms, fires or other natural disasters cause power outages, they disrupt peoples’ lives. Gibbons knew there was a pressing need for a generator business in the community, especially to service rural areas, where people often lack access to the conveniences city-dwellers enjoy.
The standby generator systems Gibbons offers his clients are designed to automatically turn on when power outages occur.
The machines support basic home needs such as well water systems, sump pumps and furnaces.
“Generators have evolved quite a bit over the past 10 years,” Gibbons says. “An increase in generator manufacturers and advances in product engineering have led to better options for the customer. People can now provide backup power for air conditioners, computer systems and medical devices. Having the generator sized appropriately for your needs, installed properly and serviced regularly are all important for future performance and reliability.”
Electricians install generators, which run on whatever fuel is already provided to a client’s home, such as liquid petroleum or natural gas. People most often seek generator installations during the spring, when storms frequently cause outages.
“It’s a cyclical business,” says Gibbons. “There are a number of storms that take place in the spring, and people start thinking about their basements and all the work they’ve done on them. They often think about the food in their refrigerators and freezers, too.
“Outages can be a problem during the winter, also,” he adds. “Sometimes people don’t have heat, or they have medical conditions that make them dependent on medical equipment, so a generator proves very useful. Having a generator is like having an extra insurance policy.”
Gibbons says clients don’t need to understand how generators work, because his team is there to take care of those details.
The company offers customers a complete package – generators for the home and office, emergency storm and backup power generators and generator service and repair.
Gibbons says the community has supported his business and he believes it’s important to give back to the community as well. Over the years, Gibbons Electric has helped to support local arts, dance and theater groups, the Rockford Pro/Am golfing event, and local soup kitchens and food banks.
While his company has a strong success story to tell, Gibbons has learned from challenges and mistakes made along the way. One challenge was learning to effectively coordinate schedules with residential customers in a way that allows for flexibility.
“From my prior experience in retail management, I’ve learned to focus on what it is the customer wants,” he says. “In the residential market, we have to schedule differently and make extra time for people. We have to be more communicative.”
Another challenge has been keeping up to speed with the latest technology and staying abreast of evolving electrical components like LED lighting and automation controls. Staying on top of changes in government codes and regulations is challenging, too.
“One mistake I made was trying to be everything to everybody,” he says, referencing the days before he decided to focus his attention on the residential electrical service and generator aspects of the business. “It can become stressful. I decided I needed to hone in on the residential side of electrician work because of this.”
Along with maintaining a manageable focus, Gibbons minimizes the pressures of running a small business by practicing financial discipline.
“I don’t have a lot of debt and never had to invest a lot of money or get overextended on credit,” he says. This helped his business to weather the recession. “The economic storm didn’t impact us because we weren’t tied to builders, bankers or contractors.”
Gibbons says his favorite part of running a business is getting to know his customers. And, he appreciates the benefits that go hand-in-hand with being self-employed.
“There are certain freedoms when you have your own business,” he says. “I’ve been able to watch my four kids grow up and attend all their events,” he says. “Being a self-employed business owner allows these types of freedoms.”
His advice for aspiring business owners?
“Know your product,” he says. “Anyone going into business for themselves needs to know their own products, have service understanding and the ability to keep up-to-date with new technology. Research and understand the competition. Understand what other companies can bring to the table to remain competitive, and, if you need to, provide a different alternative.”
One of the most important things to remember, Gibbons says, is to be honest with your customers.
“If you don’t know something, do your research and come back with an honest answer,” he says. “Honesty has been something that has been at the forefront of every decision I make.”