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Bid for power: Detroit Electrical Services overcomes growing pains to snag larger contracts.

WHEN THE REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL FROM DETROIT Water and Sewerage Department crossed Brian Rhodes' desk three years ago, he knew Detroit Electrical Services L.L.C. could handle the job. He just wasn't sure how this small electrical construction firm would go about getting the largest contract it had ever bid on: a one-year, $7.6 million contract to design and build large emergency power generators at several of the department's locations.

Several firms submitted proposals and, though Rhodes says Detroit Electrical's proposal was evaluated as the "best," the department selected another firm. "We were relatively new, and the recommended bidder had a long history with the department," recalls his wife and business partner, Gloria.

Later, when the project came up for bid again, the couple submitted another proposal. This time they won. Gloria credits a concerted "getting to know you" effort with helping to make that happen. "Between the first and second bids, we worked to develop relationships with the customer," she says, "and developed a track record of successful performance on other work."

Founded in 1999, Detroit Electrical installs, connects, tests, and maintains electrical systems for power distribution, lighting, control systems, security, and communications for businesses, factories, and municipal facilities. Brian, 53, is president of the firm and oversees the field work and electrical design, while Gloria, 57, is CEO and handles sales and marketing. Securing notable projects, such as the electrical build-out of four floors for Cadillac Place, the former General Motors' headquarters and current offices for the state of Michigan, helped Detroit Electrical post $12.9 million in sales in 2006. The company is on track to make $14 million in sales in 2007 by offering design, engineering, management, consulting, installation, maintenance, and electrical testing.

After winning the bid, Detroit Electrical worked at sites throughout southeastern Michigan to help brace the city's critical systems for future outages. "We went in and modified the systems," says Brian, "allowing them to monitor and control the high-use facilities from a centralized location."

Though the contracts are now rolling in, Detroit Electrical--which employs 15 office staff members and 42 unionized, field electrical workers--was a costly venture to launch. It took $100,000 to lease office space and purchase tools and equipment such as conduit cutting and threading machines, conduit benders, wire cutters, wire pullers, and portable generators.

What helped Brian and Gloria was taking a step that many small businesses would probably skip: they joined the National Electrical Contractors Association and became a signatory member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW, Local 58), thus ensuring that their firm would be considered on those bids that require contractors to use union labor. "Detroit Electrical uses a core group of electricians who have come out of our union hall," says IBEW business representative Gary Hellmer. "There's a renaissance coming in the city of Detroit, and they're a major part of it."

Detroit Electrical Services, 1924 Rosa Parks Blvd., Detroit, MI 48216; 313-223-2800;

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Title Annotation:MAKING IT
Author:McCrea, Bridget
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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