There weren’t any big box stores in the area in 1975 when Barbara Murray opened Champlain Valley Electric Supply. The venture enabled her to fill a void and built a business to satisfy the lighting needs of North Country residents. In her more than 20 years operating the business, she trained her family to carry her torch. Barbara’s husband, Bill Murray, operated William J. Murray Inc. — an electrical contracting company started in 1931, which operated separately but shared a location on Hammond Lane in Plattsburgh. Both Barbara and Bill are retired now but the Murray family still run the two businesses.
Biz Murray spent 30 years working in speech pathology before retiring in 2018 to manage the showroom at Champlain Valley Electric Supply after her sister-in-law Kim Murray retired from the role. Although it was a big change, she says that being part of the family for more than three decades helped ready her for the position.
Bill and Barbara Murray had six children – three sons and three daughters. Their three sons are all involved in the family businesses in some way, Biz explained. Her brother-in-law, Paul Murray, manages the electrical counter; her brother-in-law, Michael Murray, operates William J. Murray, Inc. and her husband, David, works as an electrical contractor. The three daughters have moved out of the region.
“Being a family-owned business has its challenges,” Biz said. “When you work for yourself, everything falls on you. You have to be ultimately responsible for everything.” That has been especially challenging during the pandemic. To find guidance she turned to colleagues in other local businesses to see how they were managing through changing regulations and the needs of employees and customers. “The support in our community has been amazing,” she emphasized.
Communication is the key between Biz’s first career in speech pathology and running the lighting showroom. “First you have to listen to what someone is saying,” she said, referring both to clients and families she worked with as a speech pathologist, as well as customers looking for lighting fixtures. “Whether you are working with a contractor directly or with a customer, you are trying to figure out exactly what their needs are and how to meet those needs.”
Biz noted, “I would equate running a small business to taking care of a family. It always has needs. It’s always going to be changing. You have to be ready to adapt to those changes and you have to be willing to listen because it’s up to you to do the necessary troubleshooting.”
Lighting Know How
The showroom staff at Champlain Valley Electric Supply prides itself on offering “lights for any customer at every different price point,” Murray said. “We work with a lot of different companies in the industry – Hubbardton Forge, Melissa Lighting, House of Troy. We try to highlight companies with a U.S. presence.”
The electrical counter offers wiring and switches, light bulbs, and virtually every type of part and piece you might need for an electrical project. The staff also provides customers with a wealth of knowledge.
Asked about trends in the industry, Biz pointed to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that have become popular since they use less energy, and last longer than incandescents. “We work to educate homeowners on LEDs, their usefulness and how you can save an extraordinary amount of money and create less heat with them,” she explained. “LEDs also come in varying degrees of brightness and color temperatures.”
Consumers should be aware that when they purchase light bulbs online, they may be getting a product that hasn’t been tested and validated in the U.S. Products from companies such as Westinghouse, Sacco, GE, and Bulbrite are all rated in the U.S. for heat, length of time and intensity of light. “You have to be careful about what you’re getting because even though LEDs do not cause intense heat, they can if they’re not UL rated,” Murray cautioned.
Adapting to Change
CV Electric has made numerous adaptations over the past year to meet the changing needs of customers, keep employees and customers safe and advance the business. One big change is the amount of communication and business that is now done virtually. Orders are placed through email and over the phone and customers are more frequently choosing to have their orders delivered. A curbside pickup option has also been added. Customers who choose to shop in person must adhere to Health Department guidelines, wear a mask and practice social distancing.
The COVID-19 pandemic drove lots of people from cities to the North Country and Biz has worked with a number of them from New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and who have bought homes in our region. Meeting the lighting needs of these new residents has been fun and a challenge and has helped the business during the pandemic. “It’s nice to have new people coming into our area,” she observed.
The pandemic has also breathed new life into the lamp repair service that Champlain Valley Electric Supply offers. “People love the idea that they can take something Grandma had or something their child broke and it can be made new again,” Biz offered, noting that it is one of her favorite aspects of the business. “It is so rewarding to see the customers walk out with their refurbished treasures.” Her team also re-shades lamps. Customers can bring in a lamp, select a shade from the huge selection CV Electric keeps in stock or measurements can be taken and a shade can be specially ordered to fit the lamp. “A new shade can totally transform your lamp,” she emphasized.
Biz Murray’s style of leadership is collaborative and she frequently seeks input from her team. Champlain Valley Electric Supply employees 10 people, some of whom have been with the company for decades. “Everyone that works for us is part of our family and all their needs are different. We do our best to take care of what we have,” Murray concluded.
Champlain Valley Electric Supply
118 Hammond Lane
Plattsburgh, NY 12901