For over 30 years, Electrical Wholesaling's annual listing of the largest electrical distributors has offered the electrical wholesaling business a yardstick to measure the industry's biggest and fastest-growing electrical distributors. In many ways, EW's 250 Biggest listing is a reflection of the electrical wholesaling industry itself — constantly churning, evolving, morphing and reinventing itself.
This year's listing is no different. In fact, with all the mergers and acquisitions by distribution companies like Hagemeyer NV, Naarden, Netherlands; Rexel SA, Paris; Sonepar SA, Paris; WESCO International Inc., Pittsburgh; and Werner Electric Supply Co., Neenah, Wis., this year's 250 Biggest may very well have more changes than any 250 Biggest listing in the past.
But there's more to the changes in this year's 250 Biggest than sales figures and rankings. That's because so often when an electrical distributor is acquired, there's usually at least one industry icon who moves off center stage at the company because of retirement, restructuring or new responsibilities. It's sometimes even more pronounced when this happens with family-owned companies, where an entrepreneur who built an electrical distributorship brick-by-brick or branch-by-branch and for all practical purposes is the public face of that company isn't there any longer as that same familiar touchstone.
Nowhere in the United States have changes reshaped a market — on a personal and business basis — as much as the Baltimore-Washington market, with Hagemeyer's acquisition of Tristate Electrical and Electronics, Hagerstown, Md., Rexel's purchase of The Branch Group, Upper Marlboro, Md., and Sonepar's acquisition of Commerce Electric Supply, Linthicum, Md. Who can't think of Branch Group without thinking Chuck Steiner, or Tristate Electrical and Electronics without John Waltersdorf or his daughter, Grayson? While few industry observers can really imagine that Chuck Steiner will really, really retire, many of the company's management decisions are now in the able hands of his son, Adam.
But time marches on, and up-and-comers like Adam and other sons and daughters of the electrical industry's founding fathers and mothers now must make their own mark on this business.
It will be a different world than the one their fathers and mothers devoted their business lives to, that's for sure. It will be an electrical wholesaling industry where larger and often international distribution firms will have more to say about who sells what — and in some case to whom — than ever before.
I have been covering the electrical wholesaling industry for close to 20 years for Electrical Wholesaling magazine, but during this year more than any other, the changing of the guard in the electrical wholesaling business seems to be happening at a faster pace than ever before because of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, retirement and, unfortunately, the premature passing of some well-known figures in the electrical industry.
On that note, we want to extend our condolences to the Mevis family from Nunn Electric Supply, Amarillo, Texas, on the loss of Joe Mevis, and to Bill Elliott, Elliott Electric Supply, Nacogdoches, Texas, on the death of his wife, Mickey. They will be missed by all of their many friends in the electrical industry.
Electrical equipment manufacturers are seeing more than their share of change, too, for all of the same reasons. During the past month Bill Genne and Wayne Murphy, two special friends of Electrical Wholesaling and for many, many Cutler-Hammer/Eaton and Westinghouse distributors, announced their retirement.
All of these changes on a personal level, as well as the down business climate make for trying times. But the electrical wholesaling industry will survive. Electrical distributors, independent manufacturers' reps and electrical manufacturers are a resilient lot, and most have been through much worse before. When the economy picks up, new challenges will test the skills and resolve of industry leaders, newcomers and veterans both.