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Times & Trends: The Way We Were

April 1, 2015
Some people mistakenly think mergers and acquisitions are a new phenomenon in the electrical wholesaling industry.

This being Electrical Wholesaling magazine’s 95th Anniversary Year, I thought we could all learn something about M&As in our industry by taking a look back at EW’s first-ever listing of the electrical market’s largest distributors. That first list, published in 1970, had 100 distributors ranked by number of employees because sales volume was unavailable for so many of the companies. Following are a few things I learned from that first listing.

The national chains were already giants back then. The national and large chains really stood out on EW’s Top 100 in 1970 because only three companies had more than 100 locations. A handful had more than 20 branches, but most companies listed had less than five locations.  The big dogs back then were Graybar, with 150-plus branches; the 167-location General Electric Supply Co. (GESCO), which became GE Supply and was acquired by Rexel in 2006; and Westinghouse Electric Supply Co. (WESCO), which had 180 locations and back then was a division of Westinghouse Electric Co. before being spun off in 1994 and eventually becoming WESCO Distribution International.

In 1970, Consolidated Electrical Distributors (CED), Irving, Texas, was ranked as the fifth-largest distributor with 60 locations, and neither Sonepar nor Rexel had yet made a purchase in the United States. Ranked #6 on EW’s top 100 list, Crescent Electric Supply, East Dubuque, Ill., has also seen dramatic growth over the past 45 years, increasing its branch network from 29 locations to 140 branches and its employee count from 520 to 1,700. Another big player in 1970 was Tujax Industries, Jersey City, N.J., which had 1,000 employees, 25 locations and 1969 revenues of approximately $80 million. It went bankrupt in 1974.

The big have gotten much bigger. Today, eight  full-line and three specialty or hybrid distributors have more than 100 locations. Graybar’s sales have increased from $770.8 million (1969 revenues) to $5.66 billion (2013) and the company has added over 100 branches. It now has 261 North American locations and 7,529 employees. WESCO didn’t release its sales or employee counts for that 1970 listing but it has added 250 branches since then. And over the past 45 years, CED has added an estimated 540 branches — mostly through acquisition — and has grown from a 700-employee company to one with an estimated 6,200 employees.

A surprisingly small number of companies from the 1970 Top 100 are still operating under the same name.  Once you get past Graybar, WESCO, CED and Crescent Electric Supply, only 17 companies that were on that first Top 100 listing have not been acquired (see who in the sidebar below).  To view a PDF of that first listing, go to and type “EW Top 100 Listing from 1970” into the search engine.

I learned  two other important fact from that listing. While many distributors have been acquired over the past 45 years by other full-line  wholesalers, very few have gone bankrupt. And the channel continues to be the most efficient method of bring electrical products to market, despite challenges from direct sales, specialists, Home Depot, AmazonSupply and other competitors.


The following electrical distributors were on Electrical Wholesaling’s Top 100 ranking in 1970 and are still operating under the same name 45 years later (listed in order of rank from that listing).

  • Graybar Electric Co.
  • WESCO International Inc.
  • Consolidated Electrical Distributors Inc. (CED)
  • Crescent Electric Supply
  • Electrical Equipment Co.
  • Rumsey Electric Co.
  • Harry Cooper Supply
  • Madison Electric Co.
  • Dealers Electric Supply Co.
  • McNaughton-McKay Electric
  • Johnson Electric Supply Co.
  • Mayer Electric Supply Co.
  • Steiner Electric Co.
  • Griffith Electric Supply Co.
  • John A. Becker Co.
  • Meletio Electric Supply Co.
  • Scott Electric Co.
  • F.D. Lawrence Electric Co.
  • West Virginia Electric
  • Dakota Electric Supply
  • Hunzicker Brothers