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June 9, 2014

Central Mass Family Business Awards 2014: Bigelow Electric, Worcester

From left: Ben Bigelow; Scott Bigelow, president; and Nancy Bigelow, clerk.

Maintaining a small family business for a century — amid all the economic cycles, financial dips and swings, and potentially dire market changes — takes dedication, ingenuity, the right people with a diversity of talents, as well as a willingness and ability to listen and adapt.

Since its inception in a basement in 1914, that mix of attributes has kept Worcester-based Bigelow Electrical Co. not only up and running, but thriving.

“It's always about the people, at least in the service business,” said President Scott Bigelow. “If you have great people and you instill in them the motivation to be trained and make them adhere to professional ethics and honesty, and that goes out in the world, you maintain a reputation.”

Now run by its third generation, the brunt of Bigelow's business involves maintaining, servicing and repairing hoists, electric motors, pumps and standby generators through its BigPower division. The company, with 16 employees, also does sales and repairs, and runs a machine shop.

It's a vast departure from its simple beginnings: When Windsor Bigelow Sr. launched the business, he focused solely on maintaining, repairing and servicing electric motors, first in his parents' basement, then in a shop he rented in downtown Worcester.

But decades later, his grandson Scott began to see a seismic shift in that market: The industry of manufacturing motors, hoists and pumps was slowly moving to the South or out of the country.

Around the same time, another opportunity arose: In his travels, Scott was hearing customers express dissatisfaction with their on-site generator service.

“They said, 'I wish you could do this,'” he recalled.

It was a big leap, he noted, as “sending technicians out on site was something completely new for us.”

And the customer base expanded to police and fire departments, hospitals, research facilities, sewage plants, academic institutions and assisted living facilities.

Essentially, “everybody that has standby power,” he said, adding, “I can't really take the credit (for the decision) — I was just listening to customers.”

And today, because so many people work from home or are launching home-based businesses, he sees great opportunity in the residential market.

“Our customer base is very diverse,” he said.. “I love talking with the customers, finding out about their business. Very few … get to spend a lifetime doing what they enjoy.”

But while he now owns and runs the company, he started out doing what he calls “grunt work.”

His grandfather died in 1965, leaving his father, Windsor Bigelow Jr., to run the business. It moved to its current location on 1 Pullman St. in 1973, and eventually expanded from 12,500 to 17,500 square feet.

Learning and bonding

Scott became involved in the business in the early 1970s as a teen, doing anything from mowing the lawn to emptying trash to dirty jobs, like cleaning vents.

He had personal reasons to join the business: he wanted to see more of his father.

“My dad was here so much,” he said. “That was one way to be part of his life.”

He started taking a keen interest in what the workers were doing, and eventually started asking questions.

“They taught me stuff, then they started taking me out on jobs,” he said. “Before you knew it, I felt comfortable enough to talk to customers and facilities managers.”

His father retired in 2000, and, in 2006, Scott's wife Nancy came on as clerk. Meanwhile, of their four children — two sons and two daughters — one, Benjamin, is actively involved as a shop assistant.

Before she came on, Nancy recalled she had qualms: she didn't want to put a strain on their marriage.

“It's difficult for a husband and wife to work together ... but the transition has worked out very nicely,” she said. “Sometimes we want to bring things up at home (or vice versa), but we don't, we've found that balance.”

Scott agreed, married for 35 years, that they have struck a nice harmony by finding like-minded interests outside work, such as water-skiing and swimming.

Much like his father, Benjamin — whose job entails “helping out wherever they need me” — enjoys the learning aspect of the job. But will he take over as fourth-generation owner?

The soon-to-be University of Connecticut freshman is considering it. “I have a lot to learn before that.”


2014 Central Mass Family Business Awards - Bigelow Electric

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