Montana

Montana picCable distributor Montana is expanding its product and service offerings for the New York construction market.

By Tim O’Connor

The construction market has rebounded across the country since the Great Recession, bringing jobs and activity back into the industry. In few places is that recovery more evident than New York City.

The New York Building Congress forecasts that construction spending and employment are approaching or exceeding record territory. The organization estimated that construction spending reached $43.1 billion in the Big Apple in 2016, exceeding $40 billion for the first time. A total of $127.5 billion worth of building is expected to occur through 2018.

The strength of the New York construction market has attracted new contractors to the area to meet the demand. These conditions make it increasingly difficult for smaller companies to stand out among the crowded field. Subcontractors must find ways to make themselves indispensible to a project and general contractor. Long Island City’s Montana has done this by offering value-added services that go beyond its primary cable distribution business.

In 2016, Montana added kitting capabilities, custom label printing for cable jackets, color striping and the ability to cut custom lengths to the customer’s specifications. The company also now offers the ability to bundle multiple runs, warehouse storage, fiber and copper termination, pallet wrapping and delivering, fiber testing and complete product management.Montana box

One of the company’s newest products, LGHTNG Pull, reflects the company’s newfound value-added approach. LGHTNG Pull bundles and binds different types of wire and cable into one compact, flexible multi-conductor cable, simplifying the installation process while reducing labor costs. In addition to wire and cabling, Montana offers lighting controls, fixtures and occupancy sensors.

These expanded services enable Montana to streamline cabling installation for its customers. For the upcoming modernization project at LaGuardia Airport, for example, Montana will assemble racking and stacking of server cabling and send the entire system out to the job site in one pallet. “Sometimes it’s easier to get a more finished, personalized product so they can install it and move on,” Montana President and owner Jennifer Muhlrad says. “All they need to do is plug in and play.”

Montana’s focus on value-added services stems from Muhlrad’s adoption of a blue ocean strategy. The strategy encourages companies in competitive, or red ocean, markets to develop points or differentiation that will guide them to open and clear waters where they can more freely expand their business. Muhlrad realized that for Montana to grow she had to expand her product and service offerings to keep pace with the evolving needs of Montana’s customer base. All of the value-added services the company has developed in the past year revolve around that idea of relevancy.

Before 2016, Montana operated purely as a distributor of American-made electrical, data, transit, telephone, conduit, video, fire alarm and industrial cabling. During 2016, Montana significantly expanded its service offerings, dedicating over six months to get the value-added services up and running. By the end of it, Montana says her employees were fatigued but got through the difficult process. “One thing that shouldn’t be taken for granted is the importance of having a good team,” she says. “And I strongly believe that Montana has one of the best teams in our industry.”

Second Location

Much of the work required to set up Montana’s expanded range of service products was centered on the company’s new facility in New York’s Orange County, located about 60 miles north of its main facility in Long Island City, a neighborhood in Queens. The Orange County facility is a 15,000-square-foot building with 40-foot ceiling and plenty of racking for storage services.

Opening a second location also serves as an insurance policy to maintain operations. The rise in building activity around New York City may be great for business opportunities, but the encroachment of high-rise developments in Long Island City is threatening to push out longtime industrial tenants such as Montana.

The new Orange County location will help the company continue to provide uninterrupted service to its customers in the event Montana would have to relocate its Long Island City facility. 

Service-Oriented

Increasing its service offerings meant Montana needed to change how it approached service. The company has long been seen as a reliable distributor, but if it was going to be successful with its value-added products it needed to further expand its customer support capabilities.

Montana has dedicated increased resources to responding to customer questions, while at the same time providing the warm customer service Montana is known for. Muhlrad and her team strive to develop a personal connection with their customers. “If they [the customer] chuckle a little bit in the morning while they are placing their order, it goes a long way,” Muhlrad says she’s learned.

The attention Montana gives its customers through its value-added offerings is an extension of the customer-focused philosophy the company has always adhered to. Muhlrad is proud of how her company provides the same level of service to any customer, regardless of their size. “I treat everyone equally,” she says. “Just because one customer’s order has five less zeros behind it doesn’t matter, that customer receives the same level of attention as any other customer.”

Montana’s services go beyond the job site. The company hosts lunchtime sessions once a month at its Long Island City facility that familiarize customers with equipment such as fiber fusion tools. Clients can demo equipment and learn directly from a manufacturing representative. “We try to make sure we have training where people can come in and do lunch-and-learns,” Muhlrad says.

Letting Go

Muhlrad has long considered herself a hands-on owner. She’s active with employees and customers, and has been known to jump in a vehicle and drive an order to a job site herself. But in taking on a whole new suite of services, Muhlrad needed to rely more on her team. The result was that employees stepped up and were able to provide Montana’s customers with the same level of service and support that they had come to expect from Montana.

The result is that Muhlrad now has more freedom to manage Montana’s rapid growth and plan for the future of the company. “I’m trying to use the time right now when I don’t have to do the day-to-day stuff to plan for our future,” she says.

Of course, leaving more of the day-to-day tasks to employees means Montana must hire more people to shoulder that responsibility. Muhlrad says she looks for self-starters who know how to create a lot from a little: People who have gumption rather than advanced degrees.

They don’t even necessarily need construction experience. Muhlrad has had success in hiring people from the retail industry who understand the importance of customer service. “I am trying to look outside our industry to find people who have unique backgrounds and experiences,” she explains. “Having a new energy or a new set of eyes is very helpful, too.”

The addition of value-added services and new employees has helped Montana sail into a more open market, but Muhlrad believes it is the company’s reputation for quality and reliability that truly sets it apart. “We’ve been in business 20 years so we have a lot of history with our vendors and customers, and that differentiates us,” Muhlrad says.

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