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About the Electrical Rebuilder's Exchange

The history of the Electrical Rebuilder's Exchange was chronicled throughout the years by former Associate Editor Traci Matt.


One ship goes east, another west
By the selfsame winds
 that blow.
'Tis the set of the sail,
 and not the gale
That determines the way they go.

Like the winds of the sea are the
 winds of fate
As we voyage through life.
'Tis the set of the soul that decides
 the goal
And not the calm or the strife

These words, reprinted from the third issue of the Electrical Rebuilder's Exchange in 1983, seem prophetic in light of the gales which have assaulted the electrical rebuilding industry over the past three decades. Many of the rebuilding “ships” riding in tandem in the '80s have parted company in one way or another—some going in opposite directions, some changing cargo, and some simply going under. Yet many have survived, thrived and even joined company to support and encourage one another.

The 1980s

Cabbage Patch Kids are introduced

Dr. Martin Luther King Day is made a national holiday

The compact disc is first introduced

...as is the personal camcorder

The final episode of M*A*S*H airs

Ocean Spray introduces the juice box

The first Electrical Rebuilder's Exchange is published

Since founder Ralph Albares was inspired to produce the Exchange while developing a telemarketing program for JIMCO, Inc., it was only natural that much of the papers produced in the 1980s offered valuable marketing tips. Increasing community visibility through print, radio, and television advertising; direct mail efforts; and even public relations moves such as sponsoring sports teams were all touted by Ralph as a way to build profits.

Ralph and his wife Margaret produced the first papers from their kitchen table, with Margaret painstakingly typing each mailing label and sorting the papers by ZIP code for bulk mailing. Circulation for the first year reached around 4,000.

The eight-page premier issue featured the first of many columns by JIMCO's Juan Grube, a report on Bob Goulding's presentation at an ACE Electrical Clinic, and a number of news releases from the Automotive Parts Rebuilder's Association (APRA had yet to launch its own electrical publication.). The 80's papers were also teeming with announcements and news stories about APRA's trade shows and electrical clinics.

Yet the most remarkable headline as we look back was an editorial written by Pete Perthel of Lakes Region Auto Electric, Tilton, N.H. “The Rebuilder of Today: Will He Be the Rebuilder of Tomorrow?” was at that time a forward-thinking piece noting the need for small rebuilders to adjust to parts proliferation, offshore competition, and the need for increasing technical expertise. The remarkable thing is that it could have been written in 1993 or even this year and still been right on target. Rob Buksar would have approved.

In 1984 the Exchange featured an updated masthead with the addition of “Your Electrical Connection” as a subheading. It also included, for the first time, a coupon with the invitation to subscribe to the paper at the bargain rate of $3.50 a year. The first “Sources” issue appeared in January of 1985 with a grand total of 11 companies featured (last year we had 154). In July Ralph saluted the 1,000th subscriber, Emil Kautz of Atchison, Ks., as well as his first subscriber, Barney Kaplan of Detroit, Michigan.

Transpo Rated Among Top 500 Companies

Lucas Model M127/2.8 Starters Superesedes M50

Coping...with Computers

Ford "IAR" Alternator Testing Recommendations

APRA To Pilot "Charging and Starting Systems" school

April 1986 included a report of the first ERE Saturday Electrical Seminar, held in Kansas City. Speakers for the one-day program included Frank Oropeza, Andy Andrew, Ron Geier, and Juan Grube. In July of 1987 Joe Davis' illustrious speaking career was launched at the third electrical seminar sponsored by the Exchange and held in Kansas City. Lester Head's “Pro Tech Tips” column also appeared in 1987 and his contributions were a valuable asset to the paper for a number of years.

In 1988 Ralph stepped up the visual interest of the paper with the addition of color, as well as caricatures of himself and columnists Richard Vensel and Juan Grube. The late 80s also featured a number of articles on how to get your shop “computerized” (and we mean just the paperwork, not on-line chatting, purchasing, etc.), including a column by Ken Carlson, and later Ron Carlson, of Applied Systems Research. In 1989 Maxwell Products International began its long reign as the center spread advertiser.

A standard in the paper for each of its 237 issues has often been stuck in some small corner but its message packs a wallop. “Words to Live by”, “Worth Considering”, and today's “Words of Wisdom,” have most often been Bible verses, but have included prayers and other jewels from the minds of brilliant philosophers. Each of these passages was chosen with care and held a special meaning to the newspaper staff in relation to the production of that issue.

The 1990s

The 1990s began with a bang as the February issue announced the first all-electrical E+ Show to be held in Kansas City. “In addition to being an exhibition of equipment and parts, the show will feature a seminar theatre. This is the + PLUS factor in the show. Every hour well known speakers in the industry will conduct problem solving seminars,” Ralph wrote. Speakers at this first show included Juan Grube, Richard Vensel, Frank Oropeza, Tom Donahoe, Al Weiner, John Califano, Alan Melton, Ken Carlson, and Ron Geier. It was the largest E+ Show on record with over 750 rebuilders in attendance.

Sex and Ohmmeters in Rebuilding

Women's Success in Rebuilding Not Limited to Answering the Phone

Prepare for the new CS130D

Aluminum Castings: U.S.-made versus Offshore Manufactured

Ready or Not...Change to 42-Volt Systems at Hand

In early 1990 the first and only advertisement not related in any way to electrical rebuilding appeared in the Exchange. An ad calling for a boycott of cosmetics producers who use animal testing featured a large photo of a maimed rabbit which had apparently been the victim of some diabolical testing procedure.

By this time the paper had grown from eight pages to 12, and the annual “Sources” listings featured 35 suppliers. Unfortunately, during this time Ralph had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatments. With the help of their families, Margaret was able to get the paper out as well as plan the E+ Show during Ralph's extended illness. In the March 1991 “At Random with Ralph” they noted: “Love—We have been searching for a word strong enough to express our gratitude to all of you who have called, written, and sent gifts to us during the past several weeks. Thanks for your good wishes and your prayers. God bless you. We love you.”

In September the eighth anniversary issue of the paper announced Ralph's death.

The Torch is Passed

The first issue of 1992 brought a new look and a new owner to the Exchange. Margaret explained the transition this way:

"It was Ralph's intent to keep the Electrical Rebuilder's Exchange in the family and to maintain it as an ongoing vehicle for the electrical rebuilding industry. We are planning to do just that.

Ralph had spoken to Polly Ferree (Shea), my daughter and his stepdaughter, last July regarding her taking over the paper.

He was well aware of Polly's abilities and related work experience, as well as her sharing our goals and values for the paper.

The Exchange is pleased to announce that Polly Ferree (Shea) is the new owner. I will be an adviser and will continue being involved in the Exchange and annual trade show...

The torch is passed."

Under Polly's ownership the early 1990s became a time of milestones: a redesigned masthead with monthly use of color, the first 32-page paper, the first E+ Show 'on the road' in Louisville, the largest 'Sources' listing to date, hiring of a staff writer, a monthly “Inside” box with articles listed on the front page, and a circulation jump to 16,000.

The last of rebuilding's glory days included numerous articles on the Ford IAR burnup epidemic, rebuilders dealing with computer repair under the hood, the beginnings of Ron Geier as rebuilding's Rona Barrett, and more information on keeping up with technology, parts proliferation and education.

The March 1993 issue was the first of annual spring All New Review, another opportunity for suppliers to advertise their new products at no charge. By this time readers had come to expect the Sources Buyers Guide in January, the E+ Show issue in May, and the APRA Show Issue in October. The Exchange also ran issues featuring computer software, cleaning equipment, test equipment, and rewinders.

By 1996 some Exchange headlines began reflecting the market changes hinting that business might not just be walking in the door on such a regular basis anymore. Headlines like "Are Low Prices Worth It?" "Suppliers Feel the Pinch of Soft Rebuilding Market," "Exploring the Parts Numbering Dilemma," were showing up on a regular basis. Fortunately the E+ Show went on the road to San Diego, Calif. in May, and even though the turnout was less than expected,everyone was able to forget their troubles for a while at the breathtaking poolside reception complete with beautiful weather, great food and towering palm trees.

The May 1997 Show Issue was one for the books—40 pages—which has yet to be topped. And 1997 also saw the debut of Rob Buksar's "Plain Talk" column with such uplifting headlines as "Give Us Megamart and Give Us Death" or "Do You Hear the Raging Waters" to name just a few. Rob's articles regularly create such a firestorm that his phone has been known to ring off the hook for months after they were published.

The late 1990s also saw the introduction of columns by our favorite carlovin' hillbilly Buster McNutt. Of course to avoid any paparazzi or unnecessary stalking, Buster uses a pseudonym and the Exchange staff is sworn to secrecy. (And no, Buster is not Polly, not Juan Grube, and certainly not me. I'm not that funny.)

In response to a low turnout at previous E+ Shows, Polly called for a roundtable discussion of suppliers and rebuilders before planning the 1999 show in Ft. Worth, Tx. This meeting of dedicated industry leaders was the birthplace of the Exchange board of advisers, and later the springboard for the Electrical Rebuilder's Association (ERA).

At this meeting the ideas of the enormously popular hands-on training stations and more of a focus on education became the round-up call for that and future E+ Shows.

2000 and On

The year 2000 was bittersweet for the Exchange. Unfortunately the financial woes of the industry, coupled with family issues, had combined to limit the publication of the paper to only nine issues—for the first and only time in 20 years. Polly wrote: "As most of you know, we have been conspicuously absent during the summer months. For this unscheduled interruption, any concern or inconvenience, we are truly sorry. Family issues which arose about 20 months ago created an unavoidable financial fallout that impacted us at the first of this year. Big changes in small companies are not often easily absorbed, and we have had to fall back and punt."

As the "Businesses for Sale" section of Rebuilder's Marketplace swelled, heartrending Letters to the Editor also began to show up in our post office box: "Back a few years ago in my heart of hearts I never saw myself in these sobering circumstances. I wonder what my dad would say if he was alive to see the condition of the industry we all worked a lifetime to be a part of. I wonder what he would say if he knew the business he worked to hard to build and I worked so hard to preserve fell victim to an eroded industry...The times they are a changing and I am not willing to waste any more of mine... Goodbye, good luck and may God bless."

Of course the optimistic letters followed: "Yes, our market has changed drastically over the last 10 years. But, you know it has probably changed 20 times since 1941...We are survivors. And the need for our services will grow in the years to come...We need to be positive! We don't need a lot of 'doom and gloom.' This industry has a great future ahead of it."

A bright spot in the year 2000 was the first joint E+/Auto Electrical Rebuilders of Canada (A.E.R.A.C.) Trade Show, held in May in Niagara Falls, Canada. Attendance and attitudes seemed to rebound. Two E+ Show Advisory Board meetings were held that year to plan the 2001 show in Indianapolis, and to formulate plans for a new "network," the brainchild of Alan Melton, to take the exchange of industry ideas to the next level.

The January 2001 issue announced the debut of the Electrical Rebuilder's Exchange Network (EREN) planned for the Indy show. The EREN offered Internet access to the current and past issues of the Exchange, as well as a bulletin board for members to post problems and receive same-day responses.

It was less than a year later that the EREN became a part of the new Electrical Rebuilder's Association. The announcement, made in the November paper, explained that association membership included not only access to the web site, but a newspaper subscription and admission to the E+ Show. "It's about time," was the comment we heard most frequently.

Charter board members included Bob Wagner, Leo Manni, Bob Thomas, Ronnie Charnes, Tom Reusser, Richard Vensel, David Claybaugh, John Jervelund, Jerry Koopman, Sabrina Owens, Ron Carlson, Rob Buksar, Alan Melton, with Polly as board chair.

The association grew slowly through the first year but was given a huge boost in October 2002 at the first ERA Trade Show in Kansas City, when more than 550 rebuilders and suppliers turned out with an all-new spirit of cooperation. Suppliers came together at this point to support a new ERA Training Program featuring Joe Davis' traveling "Keep It Current" electrical seminars.

The April 2003 issue of the Exchange announced formalization of board structure, as well as taking steps to become a non-profit corporation. The ERA Trade Show continued to crisscross the country for the next ten years, while the newspaper rode the undulating economic waves like every small business in America.

In March of 2013 Polly announced the sale of her business to the ERA. The Indianapolis show was the last under her watch, and her 256th and final paper was the April issue. Polly wrote: “I founded the Electrical Rebuilder’s Association in an attempt to create a bigger team. ERA has done well, and it is with total confidence that I leave the family legacy in their capable hands.”

The "set of the soul" which began this venture 30 years ago must have been correct because, indeed, the Exchange has managed to meet its goal of providing a venue for electrical rebuilders to communicate in ways in which Ralph and Margaret could have never dreamed.

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