Sonepar Speaks Out

Jan. 1, 2007
The registration list for Sonepar's recent vendor meeting read like a Who's Who of the industry. Those electrical manufacturers learned about the company's quest to become a national distributor in the United States.

While some other companies in the electrical market made more noise about their 2006 acquisitions, during the past year Sonepar USA, Philadelphia, made several strategic purchases and quietly built out its existing geographic platforms.

Sonepar chose to break its relative silence on a grand scale when it invited more than 200 senior executives from approximately 100 of its vendors to Philadelphia's Down Town Club on Dec. 14 to discuss its future growth plans. Tony Burr, the company's president, said Sonepar USA will top $3 billion in sales in 2007 with a combination of acquisitions and organic growth, and that it will have approximately $400 million in organic growth in 2006. The company was ranked on Electrical Wholesaling's 2006 Top 200 listing as the fifth largest electrical distributor, with 2005 North American sales of more than $2.3 billion.

Sonepar made several key acquisitions in 2006. It built out the utility business it established with its 2005 purchase of Stuart Irby, Jackson, Miss., with the acquisitions of Priester Supply, Arlington, Texas, and Rigby Electric Supply Inc. (RE Supply), Rocky Mount, N.C. The company also strengthened its position in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York with its purchase of Friedman Electric Supply Co., Exeter, Pa., and entered the Milwaukee, Wis., market for the first time with its acquisition of Boggis-Johnson Electric Co.

Sonepar's biggest projects in 2006 included planning a 180,000-square-foot new regional distribution center near the Washington, D.C., beltway to supply the future growth ambitions of Capital Light & Supply; remerchandising Boggis-Johnson's counter area; launching more Irby Express branches (2,500-square-foot locations staffed by two or three people); and integrating Eclipse business software into more of its locations. The company also moved its U.S. headquarters from Philadelphia's suburbs to a downtown location overlooking the city's historic Independence Square.

Jay Bricker, the company's senior vice president of business development and vendor relations, said Sonepar USA will continue to draw from the strength of its 25,000-employee parent company Sonepar SA, Paris, one of the largest family-owned businesses in the world. He says being part of a family-run business gives Sonepar USA a different perspective than the other large national distributors in the United States. Bricker says the Coisne family that owns the company understands the concerns of independently operated businesses, and invests for the long term because it doesn't have the pressure of backers from private-equity funds or shareholders looking for immediate returns on investments.

Bricker urged manufacturers to work with Sonepar while marketing new products. “We all need new products,” he said. “That's how we make our money.” He also assured vendors that Sonepar USA has no interest in private-labeling products in the United States. “We will not compete with you in the marketplace,” he said.

Tony Burr said the company wants a national presence in the United States, and to do that it will add 80 new branches over the next two-to-three years. “The electrical landscape is changing,” he said, “It's no longer a mom-and-pop business.”