We’re extremely proud of our 50-year history, a story that begins literally with bargains in the basement offered by a little family business in New Hampshire. Started by Mr. Louis Porrovecchio in 1951, Rockingham Electric originally operated from the cellar of his home in Portsmouth. His wife tended the books and he stocked and sold the parts.
Rockingham Electric incorporated and issued stock for the first time in 1954, using the new capital to expand its operations into larger quarters (albeit still in the basement) beneath Portsmouth’s Italian-American Club on Court Street. By 1958, the Porrovecchios were ready for change and they sold the company’s outstanding stock to Mr. Herbert Clifford. Clifford was a Lynn (MA) electrical contractor seeking to expand and relocate his existing electrical supply business. For the sum of $38,000 (today roughly equal to $240,000) Clifford acquired Rockingham Electric and founded the company we know today.
Over the next two years, Rockingham Electric grew to 10 employees and found itself bursting at the seams. In the spring of 1960, Clifford purchased the Hood Milk building at 345 Court Street in Portsmouth, turning it into a modern 10,000 square-foot facility and setting the stage for a new era.
On the tide of rising sales, Rockingham Electric acquired Norms Electrical Supply Company of Claremont during 1965. In 1967 a new, wholly owned subsidiary in Dover was launched, named Clifford’s Electrical Supply Company, expanding into new quarters within a year and signaling a bright future for its parent company.
But then, on Saturday evening, December 28, 1968, catastrophe struck. In the middle of a blizzard, fire broke out at Rockingham Electric’s retail hub and company headquarters in Portsmouth, burning it to the ground. The building and the entire inventory was gone. Even worse, all the company’s records, cash and accounts receivable were lost. Although inconceivable today, 35 years ago in the pre-computer era, a thriving business saw virtually all of its important assets wiped out in just a few hours.
Sustained by the loyalty of employees and customers–and by the fortunate proximity of the Dover subsidiary–Rockingham Electric endured its darkest days. In an office trailer in the burned-out parking lot, company owner and president Herb Clifford assessed his options.
Approaching age 60, Clifford decided on new leadership to marshal the company’s reconstruction.
On January 20, 1969, within three weeks of the blaze, he named James Pender Sr., his son-in-law, as vice president and the new general manager. Ninety days later, with Pender in charge, full retail operations resumed in leased space while a search for a new, permanent location forged ahead.
Pender favored a five-acre farmhouse site in rural Newington for the construction of Rockingham Electric’s new home, about halfway between Portsmouth and Dover. Although virtually all of the company’s advisors, bankers, customers and vendors frowned on the seemingly remote location, Pender believed it could draw customers from throughout the region. Pender convinced Clifford that this controversial location was the key to the company’s future.
In April 1969, Herb Clifford purchased the Newington land, demolished the farmhouse and once again signaled a new era of corporate growth and vitality. Within a year, Rockingham Electric moved into its new building at 175 River Road, conveniently located “right by the Newington bridge” where it was seen by thousands of commuters daily. Within a year, a 3200 square-foot retail lighting showroom was added to accommodate the burgeoning homeowner trade.
Pender’s strategy paid off well. In fact, it foreshadowed the now-popular expression “build it and they will come.” Not only did Rockingham Electric’s customers come to Newington, but along came major malls, home furnishing stores, movie theaters, recreational businesses, restaurants, car dealers, offices and building supply stores, turning the area into a commercial Mecca. Even Rockingham Electric’s bank, an original opponent of the location, is now located within a half mile of the showroom it originally opposed.
Stabilized in the Newington corporate home, Pender next brought Rockingham Electric a new growth spurt with acquisitions of several smaller businesses. Each was upgraded as it moved under the Rockingham Electric umbrella. In the summer of 1970, the Portland (ME) branch of Eagle Electric Supply Co. was added. In 1972, an Augusta (ME) store, the company’s first startup location, opened for business. Early in 1975, Reward Electric Supply Co., in Berlin, was acquired.
Also in 1975, company owner Herb Clifford built a 42,000 square-foot six-court indoor tennis facility on the remaining three acres of the Newington property. Called The Tennis Barn, it was the first such membership fitness club in the area. Successful from the start, it was planned, ironically, to put itself out of operation, being designed for conversion to a warehouse whenever needed by the company.
The national recession of the late 70s stalled expansion plans for a time. Then, the company mourned the passing of Mr. Clifford on March 3, 1983. Mr. Pender assumed the late founder’s duties as president and treasurer of the company.
As the 80s unfolded and the national economy improved, Rockingham Electric returned to rapid growth in sales and profitability. During the period 1983 to 1987, sales doubled and net worth tripled. The tennis building was converted to a warehouse and a $1 million expansion program of the Newington hub added new corporate offices, improved docking facilities, more counter space and a new 8500 square-foot retail lighting fixture showroom. By June 1989, the newly renovated quarters of some 65,000 square feet were ready for occupancy.
When Rockingham Electric entered the 90s, Pender again evaluated the company’s future strategy, now seeking to grow through new business relationships that could assure competitiveness of a locally owned business against the emerging national players. Strength of numbers, he thought, could put Rockingham Electric on the same playing field as the major chains. With that in mind, Rockingham Electric in 1991 joined Affiliated Distributors, the foremost distributor network in North America. This association offered some $14 billion in purchasing power and the finest marketing and sales programs in the industry, providing Rockingham Electric with a base for continued healthy growth.
That growth continued in 1995 with the purchase of Ralph Collins Electrical Supply Company, in Rochester, giving Rockingham Electric its sixth location. One year later, a seventh branch was added with the purchase of Village Electric Supply Company, in Conway. The first Massachusetts branch, came in 2002 with the opening of an Amesbury store. Within a year, The Lighting Center in Amesbury was added to better serve North Shore customers. October of 2003 brought the opening of Rockingham Electric’s Laconia branch. The most recent addition, The Harbor Lights in Hampton Falls, was purchased in February 2007. Now in its third decade, the Harbor Lights features a vast selection of interior and exterior lighting.
Although that brings the corporate history to the present day, no synopsis is complete without mention of the most important aspect of Rockingham Electric: our philosophy that integrity matters most. Since the day Mr. Herbert B. Clifford “signed on the bottom line” and literally moved Rockingham Electric out of the basement, our company has been known for its honesty, reliability and dedication to the customer above everything else. All were the hallmarks of our founder, and today we remain certain that Mr. Clifford is proudly watching as that tradition continues.