By BECKY GILLETTE
Irby Company, a leading electrical supply distributor, is one of Mississippi’s longest running homegrown business success stories. The company founded in 1926 in Jackson by Stuart C. Irby Sr. has grown from one branch in Jackson to nearly 60 branches spread across 25 states. In 2014, Irby had $894 million in revenue, which makes it the sixth largest private company in the state, in the Mississippi Business Journal’s Mississippi 100 ranking.
The Great Recession in 2008 resulted in reduced construction and less demand for construction products. While the nation’s recovery from the recession has been slow, indications from Irby regarding growth in sales indicate that business is booming.
“In the past year alone, Irby has consistently broken sales records year over year and we look to see even more records being recorded by the year’s end,” said Irby President Michael Wigton.
“In 2015, we expect sales to grow to $965 million.”
Wigton started out his career as a light bulb salesman for GE. In those early days, he never dreamed that one day light bulbs would be eclipsed by tremendously more energy efficient LED lighting. Light bulbs are on the way out.
“We are seeing a huge demand for LED lighting,” Wigton said.
“There is a revolution going on. Every other light source available today will disappear sometime in the next 10 to 20 years and go LED. They have banned certain wattages of incandescent bulbs and they have banned standard fluorescents — all those less efficient bulbs. LEDs are much more efficient and the prices have dropped dramatically. Sales of other types of lights are declining ten percent a year while sales of LEDs are going up 50 to 60 percent per year.”
The other big advantage is the longevity of LEDs, which can last 10 years or longer. The energy savings are tremendous.
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Wigton compares lighting energy efficiency to an automobile with an incandescent bulb representing 16 to 18 miles per gallon, fluorescent bulbs about 75 mpg and LEDs 125 mpg.
“The day is coming when you aren’t going to be able to replace that 100-watt incandescent bulb in your house,” Wigton said. “LEDs are the future. There is no question. Now you know why I’m not selling light bulbs anymore.”
Irby has an large inventory that includes 500,000 items representing industry-leading brands for all types of electrical and lighting needs.
The company has three market segments: utility, industrial and commercial/contractor. Irby furnishes transformers and lines, industrial, assembly line switch gear, and robotics.
For the commercial/contractor side, the company sells electrical supplies to the electricians who wire homes and businesses and the lighting that goes with it.
Although currently owned by a French company, Irby is still headquartered in Mississippi and continues to invest in operations in the original core area for the company.
“Our commitment to our heritage and to the Jackson area was evident when we needed to expand into a larger facility,” Wigton said.
“Rather than moving outside of the area, we intentionally built our new state-of-the-art corporate office, branch locations and warehouse right across from where Mr. Irby first began his life in the electrical business.”
Wigton said the company is known for having the type of work environment that results in little staff turnover. Many key employees have been with the company for decades.
“Irby is proud of the fact that we have a loyal employee base which boasts one 50 plus year tenured employee with several more approaching the 50-year benchmark and numerous others following with more than 25 years,” Wigton said. “We truly believe this is attributed to the Irby ‘family culture’ atmosphere.”
When it comes time to hire new employees, Irby often hires Mississippians.
“We believe in the talent we have right here in Mississippi and continue to recruit new employees from Mississippi universities,” Wigton said.
The e-Commerce market is increasingly important, not only to Irby, but to its parent company, Sonepar, which purchased Irby in 2005.
Wigton said relationships with customers are a top priority, and e-Commerce helps serve customers quickly and efficiently through avenues such as phone apps for orders.
“We are committed to both the personal service each of our customers want and deserve and to providing each with state-of-the-art technology to make doing business with Irby fast and efficient,” Wigton said.
“The value we bring is partially logistic because we have a large inventory of products and can get them to you quickly. But the value is also specialization. We have eight lighting source experts who work with customers to better understand their options such as LEDs. People like dealing with a distributor with salesmen who are specialists in the products. A lot of what we sell does require engineering and technical type support, especially in the industrial area.”
Irby’s industrial customers are under pressure today to do more with less. Wigton said Irby can help dramatically streamline a customer’s operations by providing a comprehensive set of supply-side solutions.
“Through services like inventory management, technical training and process consulting, Irby can help businesses reduce downtime, enhance safety, improve processes and lower overall supply chain cost,” Wigton said.
“Whatever your needs, from inventory management to guidance on improving your manufacturing processes, you can count on Irby to help you minimize waste and maximize efficiency.”
Irby and its employees are also known for being involved in community activities.
“Part of what makes Irby “Irby” is our commitment to our local communities,” Wigton said.
“We believe in giving back to our communities and those around us in need. Irby and its employees last year presented a check in excess of $325,000 to the Salvation Army and United Way.”