- Another Wild Ride with Copper Prices
The surge and current decline in copper pricing reinforces the folly of trying to predict prices of this cyclical commodity. Copper spent most of the last two years at the rarified heights of more than three dollars per pound — always more than double and often triple its historical range of eighty cents to $1.20 per pound.
While some electrical distributors reportedly attempted to stock up on wire and cable as a hedge on future price increases, many knowledgeable wire-and-cable insiders agree it's a dangerous game to play. Demand from China, the impact of labor strikes on copper mines and speculative buying by commodity traders are all factors beyond the control of electrical manufacturers, distributors and reps. You can count on one thing — while copper may not be a precious metal when compared to gold or silver, it will always be a precious commodity in the minds and warehouses of anyone who sells wire and cable.
- The Housing Market Goes Thud
The housing statistics in the 2008 National Factbook (page 35) tell the grim story of the decline of the U.S. housing market. It's become a larger-than-life issue that's even being talked about by U.S. presidential contenders on the campaign trail.
This is obviously a serious issue for the U.S. economy as a whole because the sub-prime loan crisis is starting to spread into other credit markets, tightening up lending and loan standards for businesses of all sizes. That being said, the electrical wholesaling industry is somewhat insulated from this mess because residential construction accounts for 24.7 percent of electrical distributors' sales. That's either a lot or a little depending on your perspective, but it's smaller than the commercial market (30.6 percent) and the industrial market (26.1 percent).
The housing decline is somewhat limited in geographic scope to the states and local markets that enjoyed the boom years. According to the Department of Census and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Washington, D.C., in 2006 (just past the peak of the housing surge), an estimated 47 percent of all housing permits were pulled in just six states: Texas (12 percent); Florida (11 percent); California (9 percent); Georgia (6 percent); North Carolina (5 percent); and Arizona (4 percent). Seven of the top 10 MSAs in terms of building permits were in these states, and these markets alone — Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Charlotte and Orlando — accounted for roughly 17 percent of all U.S. building permits in 2006. The moral of this story is that while the housing crisis is indeed serious, it's somewhat limited in scope to large Sunbelt metropolitan market areas that enjoyed the froth of the boom years.
- The Green Market (finally) Gathers Steam
Industry veterans who have beat the drum for energy-efficiency for 25 years (and some silverbacks doing it since the oil crisis of the 1970s) must get a good chuckle from all the hoo-hah over green nowadays. It's all great, but it's not exactly a new trend. The early implementers in the electrical crowd have well-established niches in this business and will be tough to dislodge by anyone coming late to the party. Some of the new converts include Wall Street investors, who have taken new interest in green stocks and mutual funds. This is an extreme example, but at press-time the stock of First Solar (FSLR), had hit $238 per share — up from $28.20 in mid-January.
There's still plenty of seats left on the green bandwagon because of several key macrotrends shaping the business:
The historically high price of oil and national security concerns about relying on a politically unstable region of the world for so much of our fuel.
Dozens of utility-rebate programs that offer building owners and other end users cash for installing energy-efficient lamps, ballasts, lighting controls, fixtures, reflectors, dimming systems, variable-frequency drives and motors.
Government legislation outlawing the most inefficient lighting products and offering financial incentives for the design of energy-efficient buildings.
The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, which is basically a “Good Housekeeping seal of approval” for energy-efficient buildings.
An unprecedented amount of research and development in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as a light source to replace many conventional lamps.
Increasing interest in alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic and wind power.
- Rexel, Sonepar and Consolidated Electrical Distributors (CED) Lead Another Busy Year for Distributor Acquisitions
During 2007, EW and Electrical Marketing newsletter reported on more than 30 distributor acquisitions, including mega-deals, the purchase of smaller niche distributors and some interesting global deals (see chart on pages 32-33). The largest deal of them all was Rexel's $4.5 billion buyout of its global rival Hagemeyer, and its subsequent sale of Hagemeyer's U.S. operations to Sonepar, another global competitor. After the dust cleared, Rexel had added locations throughout Europe, gained an estimated $5.2 billion in sales, and solidified its position as the world's largest distributor. Sonepar gained more than $500 million in sales and strengthened its coverage in the eastern United States with locations in the Carolinas, where it had wanted to grow, and in Maryland, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania. The purchase also bolstered Sonepar's industrial business.
The other mega-deal was the purchase of 70-plus locations from US Electrical Services Inc. LLC (USESI), Exton, Pa., by CED of Westlake Village, Calif. Deal-meister Richard Worthy, USESI's CEO, had been busy with acquisitions during 2007, acquiring six companies. After his non-compete clause with Sonepar expired in January 2006, Worthy built USESI into a $400 million-plus business with the help of 11 acquisitions.
Other large 2007 acquisitions included the purchase of Roden Electrical Supply Co., Knoxville, Tenn., by Kendall Electric, Battle Creek, Mich.; Sonepar USA's purchase of Crawford Electric Supply, Dallas, and Ralph Pill Electric Supply, Boston; the sale of HD Supply to several of the world's largest private-equity firms; the sale of Shepherd Electric Supply, Raleigh, N.C., to State Electric Supply Co., Huntington, W.Va.; the sale of Cape Electrical Supply, Cape Girardeau, Mo., to a private-equity firm; the purchase of Minnesota Electric Supply Co., Willmar, Minn., by Border States, Fargo, N.D.; and Hagemeyer's purchase of Bryant Electric Supply, Lowell, N.C.
Well over $2 billion in U.S. electrical sales changed hands in 2007 through the acquisitions of these EW Top 200 distributors. If you add up the global sales of the Hagemeyer operations that Rexel would retain, the combined total of 2007 global acquisitions would top $7 billion.
- Private-Equity Firms Take Center Stage in CED's Acquisition of USESI and the Sale of HD Supply
Private-equity cash has long been the rocket fuel for the turbocharged acquisition climate in the electrical wholesaling industry, and 2007 was no different. The purchase of HD Supply by Clayton Dubilier & Rice, Bain Capital Partners and Carlyle Group was the biggest private-equity-funded deal in 2007 in the electrical industry. On a smaller scale, Cape Electrical Supply was bought by Svoboda Collins LLC. Although Kelso & Co., New York, and the private-equity firm run by Michael Dell of Dell Computers funded the fast growth of Richard Worthy's USESI, it's also been speculated that those companies were eager to cash in on their investments in the electrical wholesaling industry when the lucrative offer came in from CED.
- Acquisitions of Electrical Manufacturers and Distributor Software Companies Continue
It was an unusually active acquisition year for electrical manufacturers in many segments of the market. The lighting business saw the most action in acquisitions. Several big lighting companies acquired R&D expertise and manufacturing capacity in the fast-growing LED market. Royal Philips Electronics NV Netherlands, Dutch parent of Philips Lighting Co., Somerset, N.J., purchased innovative LED manufacturer Color Kinetics, Boston, early in the year, and near year-end announced a blockbuster acquisition of Genlyte Group Inc., Louisville, Ky., one of the world's largest manufacturers of lighting fixtures. With its Advance Transformer ballast business, Philips Lighting lamp business and the Genlyte fixture business, Royal Philips Electronics now owns some of largest players in key sectors of the global lighting market. The acquisition of a large North American lighting control manufacturer would complete the package.
Philips wasn't the only lighting manufacturer making acquisitions. Cooper Industries, Houston, added several businesses to its Cooper Lighting business unit: WPI Interconnect Products, Salem, N.J.; Io Lighting, Vernon Hills, Ill.; and Powerline Communications Inc., South Burlington, Vt. Io Lighting and Powerline Communications manufacture LEDs.
Other large 2007 acquisitions included the purchase by Thomas & Betts Corp. Memphis, Tenn., of Lamson & Sessions, Cleveland, and its Carlon subsidiary; the sale of Tektronix, Beaverton, Ore., to Danaher Corp., Washington, D.C., for its Fluke Corp., test instrument business; and the purchase by Coleman Cable Inc., Waukegan, Ill., of Copperfield LLC, Bremen, Ind., and Katy Industries Inc., Arlington, Va.
The distribution software business continues to consolidate, and Activant Solutions, Livermore, Calif., is doing much of the acquiring. The company bought Intuit Eclipse Distribution, Mountain View, Calif., in 2007, and over the past few years acquired the Trade Service Systems and Prophet 21 software packages. On the data side of distribution software business, Trade Service Co. LLC, San Diego, was acquired by GF Capital, New York.
In the contracting arena, Quanta Services, Houston, a multi-dimensional contracting firm with niches in the electrical, power-line/utility and cable television markets, acquired InfraSource Services, Media, Pa.
- Private Labeling Challenges Conventional Branding Norms in the Electrical Market
A series of EW articles on private labeling written by Allen Ray, Allen Ray & Associates, Kennedale, Texas, and David Gordon, Channel Marketing Group, Raleigh, N.C., caused quite a stir in the electrical market this year. It's an open secret that many blue-chip electrical manufacturers have parts of their product offerings manufactured for them by offshore third-party companies because of the cost efficiencies, and that some large distributors are experimenting with private labeling, but it's not a topic that was discussed so publicly in the electrical market.
Elements of private labeling are here to stay in this industry, but so too are the potential liabilities if electrical manufacturers don't closely monitor their offshore manufacturing partners, and if distributors and end users aren't careful about the privately labeled products they choose to sell and install.
- Leadership Change at IDEA
The ouster of Mike Rioux, president of the Industry Data Exchange Association (IDEA), Arlington, Va., created quite a stir in the electrical industry's IT circles because of how much IDEA had grown during his tenure and the industry-wide respect he had earned for his work there. Rioux's replacement, Robert Gaylord, comes with an impressive resume of military and civilian accomplishments. He is a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General, and recently served as president and chief executive officer of the Leader to Leader Institute, New York.
- Watch Out for Wolseley
With 79,000 employees working at 5,000 branches in 28 countries throughout Europe and North America, Wolseley is the largest distributor in the world. While it doesn't dabble much in the electrical market (yet), it's a huge player in the U.S. plumbing supply market through it Ferguson Enterprises business, and in the homebuilding market through Stock Building Supply.
Wolseley, which had an estimated $33.3 billion in sales, recently announced plans to lay off 1,300 workers in North America in addition to the 1,700 workers it laid off earlier this year. But as one of the most active acquirers on the planet, it may be a matter of time before the company adds a large electrical distributor to its distribution businesses in other building trades. There's speculation that HD Supply, Atlanta, and its many different distribution businesses would be a nice fit for Wolseley. In its most recent fiscal year, the company spent roughly $350 million on 10 acquisitions in North America and Europe and in its 2006 fiscal year acquired 43 distributors.
- Who's Who at the Zoo. Industry Execs on the Move
Top-level appointments were common at many manufacturers. After the death of their father-in-law, Harold Leviton, Donald Hendler, the company's president, took on the additional role of CEO of Leviton Manufacturing Co. Inc., Little Neck, N.Y., and Steve Sokolow became the company's chairman of the board. In other changes at Leviton, Ed Plaia was appointed vice president/general manager for the company's commercial and industrial business, and Brad Leland joined Leviton Voice & Data in Bothell, Wash., as vice president of sales.
There were several major promotions at EGS Electrical Group, Rosemont, Ill., including the promotion of George Mulligan to president of the company's Electrical Construction Materials Group, replacing Ron Orcutt, who is retiring; Joe Corrigan to vice president of operations; Bill Estes to vice president of supply chain; and Mike Kramer to director of operations.
Dennis Sadlowski succeeded Aubert Martin as CEO of Siemens Energy & Automation, Alpharetta, Ga. In other company news, Tom Kopanski was promoted to vice president of the power distribution and controls division, and Raj Batra became vice president of the automation and motion division.
At Generac Power Systems, Waukesha, Wis., Aaron Jagfeld became president and Clement Feng chief marketing officer. In other senior-level appointments, Ken Martell was promoted to president of Salisbury Electrical Safety, Skokie, Ill.; J. Timothy Dunn became president of Solon Manufacturing Co., Chardon, Ohio; Stephen Anderson was named CEO of ProtectConnect, Irvine, Calif.; and Chuck Spears became president of Liebert North America, Columbus, Ohio.
In other major manufacturer appointments, Ned Camuti joined Thomas & Betts, Memphis, Tenn., as president of its U.S. electrical business; Pat Davin became vice president and general manager at Pass & Seymour/Legrand, Syracuse, N.Y.; and John Hoffman was promoted to executive vice president of sales and marketing for the company's Electrical Wiring Systems division.
Hubbell Inc., Orange, Conn., and Schneider Electric's North American Operating Division in Palatine, Ill., were in the news, too. Hubbell promoted Bob Murphy to vice president of marketing and sales, and Schneider appointed Kristin Johnson-Holz to vice president of marketing from her senior executive post with Grainger, and promoted Ralph Harris to vice president of U.S. sales.
In other manufacturer news, Andrew Quinn became executive vice president of ILSCO, Cincinnati; Lennart Jonsson was promoted to vice president, technology and chief technology officer, Eaton Corp., Cleveland; and John Spencer joined Ideal Industries Inc., Sycamore, Ill., as national accounts manager. He had been with Hubbell Lighting in Greenville, S.C.
Wire and cable
Following its acquisition of Copperfield, Coleman Cable Inc., Waukegan, Ill., announced several promotions. Jeff Johnston moved to executive vice president of operations; Ken McAllister became senior vice president; Kurt Hennelly was appointed senior vice president of supply chain; and Kathy Jo Van was promoted to senior vice president of corporate marketing and business development.
In other wire and cable news, Mark Thackeray was promoted to senior vice president, General Cable, Highland Heights, Ky. At Omni Cable Corp., West Chester, Pa., Pete Comber became executive vice president and David DiDonato was appointed national sales manager.
Francisco Santiago became executive vice president for Osram Sylvania, Danvers, Mass.; and Sam Newberry became vice president of sales for Amerlux Lighting Solutions, Fairfield, N.J.; Dan Cheetham joined Universal Lighting Technologies, Nashville, Tenn., as vice president of OEM and international sales; and Wayne Anthony became vice president of sales and marketing for Nicor, Albuquerque, N.M.
Buying groups and industry alliances
At Affiliated Distributors, King of Prussia, Pa., David Oldfather was promoted to senior vice president and Peter Classon became vice president of information technology. IMARK Group, Oxon Hill, Md., had some big news, too, as Bob Smith joined the group from Legrand to succeed retiring Steve Cunningham as president. Gary DeVost was appointed president and CEO of Vanguard National Alliance (VNA) Inc., Framingham, Mass.
Following the retirement of CEO Ben Herr at Dakota Supply Group, Fargo, N.D., Todd Kumm was appointed CEO and Tom Rosendahl was named president. After the acquisition of Minnesota Electric Supply by Border States Industries, Steve Peterson, the company's president and CEO, moved south and became area sales manager for central Texas for Summit Electric Supply, Albuquerque.
Other distributors taking on lead roles included Jeremey de Brabant, director of Rexel UK, who became senior vice president and CEO of Rexel Inc., and D. Gregory Wilson, who was appointed president of Needham Electric Supply Corp. (NESCO), Canton, Mass.
In other distributor news, Dennis Cook joined Electrical Wholesalers/USESI/CED as vice president of business development in Stoughton, Mass., after a career as a lighting manufacturer; Ron Lim became vice president of sales and marketing for Griffith Electric Supply, Trenton, N.J.; and Greg Smith was promoted to vice president of corporate development, Granite City Electric Supply, Quincy, Mass.
Other vice presidential announcements at electrical supply houses included the appointment of Dean Krout as vice president of marketing and information systems for Schaedler YESCO Distribution, Harrisburg, Pa.; and the appointments at Eoff Electric/Sonepar USA, of Pat LeVeaux as vice president/general manager and Dale Denfield as vice president — operations.
Also in the news was French Gerleman, St. Louis, where Jim Engelhard was promoted to vice president of construction sales; and Border States, Fargo, N.D., where Matthew Eddleman was named senior vice president — Southwest and South Central regions, vendor relations.
In the rep world, Brendan Powell was promoted to president of Kunz-Powell & Associates, Malvern, Pa., succeeding his father, Bob Powell, who will work on a full-time basis for the next five to six years, and Matt McAuliffe became a partner at Mike McAuliffe Sales, Hazel Park, Mich.
Electrical Marketing newsletter reported on 60 acquisitions in the past two years.
We pay our respects to the industry leaders who have passed away during the past 12 months. Harold Leviton, chairman and CEO, Leviton Manufacturing Co., Inc., Little Neck, N.Y.; Franklin Adams, former owner, Shaffer & Nelson, Spokane, Wash.; Steve Jedynak, former account manager, Omni Cable Corp., West Chester, Pa.; Kenneth Hoover, a senior executive with Summers Electric, Plano, Texas; David Engleman, formerly general manager, GE Supply, Shelton, Conn.; Bill Connor, formerly v.p. of sales, Thomas & Betts Corp., Memphis, Tenn.; Thomas Becker, former chairman of the board, Becker Electric Supply Co., Dayton, Ohio; David Jae, founder David Jae & Co., Mount Vernon, N.Y.; and Sandy Leff, former chairman of H. Leff Electric Co., Cleveland.