A leap of faith: After pondering career in law, Schaedler Yesco president found home in distribution

Instead, she ended up in the wholesale distribution business and says she’s not looking back.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” said Mittel, who in January became president of Swatara Township-based Schaedler Yesco Distribution Inc.

The Dauphin County company, with offices in the Allentown area distributes electrical, industrial and data communications supplies from 21 branch locations across the state.

Mittel, 41, acknowledges that few people grow up with aspirations of working in wholesale distribution. Like others in the business, she ended up there by accident.

Mittel graduated from Penn State University in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in public policy, which led her to a job in York County government.

She worked in the district attorney’s office as a victim witness coordinator and then as a deputy administrator for grants.

Mittel said her plan was to attend law school but then a friend told her about a business development opportunity at Schaedler Yesco. She knew nothing about the company, but did some research and decided to apply for the role, which was to grow the company’s sales to local, state and federal governments. She ended up joining the company in 2006.

“I took a leap of faith,” said Mittel.

Still, law school was in the back of her mind. She thought she would work in the new job for two years and then pursue her dream of a career in law.

“I thought I would just get a foot in the door,” she said.

But she fit in, liked the work and quickly discovered opportunities. Thoughts of a law career faded as Mittel moved from government sales to marketing, branch management and then regional vice president for the company’s east region.

“I had early opportunities to work with all of the departments,” she said, noting that the experiences helped her learn the entire business and put her on a path to leadership.

More than three months into the job as president, Mittel said she is still adjusting, as the role comes with a higher profile.

“I’m just Farrah. I’m not used to the spotlight,” she said.

‘Speed to market’

Schaedler Yesco, a fourth-generation family business, has about 300 employees. It has experienced significant growth over the last 15 years as it expanded into markets like energy-focused lighting and controls design, industrial automation products and data communications systems.

Schaedler Yesco’s corporate headquarters on Paxton Street is the main distribution hub, supplying its Pennsylvania branches with more than 100,000 products, ranging from electrical wire and conduit to switchboards and lighting control systems for contractors and other buyers.

The company finished 2017, the latest data available, with nearly $170 million in revenue.

Mittel said the company has bolstered its service offerings with additions such as energy assessments of buildings.

The company also has worked to combat the rise of e-commerce companies, which has led customers to expect faster delivery, she said.

“Everyone wants it now,” she said. “We are improving speed to market all the time.”

And Schaedler Yesco has been beefing up its own e-commerce platforms to make it easier for customers to ask questions, research products and place online orders.

Mittel said the company continues to evaluate brick-and-mortar locations and look for ways to hone the balance between physical stores and online service.

Mittel said improvement also can mean adding delivery routes or shifting some orders to smaller vans to reach customers more quickly. But she also said distributors can’t always be sending out drivers with just a few parts.

“You can’t have trucks sitting for ‘what if?’” she said.

Caroline Ernst, vice president of e-commerce solutions for Chester County-based AD, a business-services group owned by distributors and manufacturers of construction and industrial products, said she believes Schaedler Yesco has been out in front on digital initiatives to boost the customer experience.

Schaedler Yesco is a member and owner of AD.

Ernst also said more distributors are moving toward letting customers buy online and pick up products in store or at a branch, a trend seen in the business-to-consumer retail world.

Ernst said digital growth is more about complementing physical sales channels, not replacing them.

“Having a physical location coupled with product expertise and service is something Amazon can’t match,” Ernst said.

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