Looking to grow and diversify its operations in the New England market, Sonepar Distribution US, Reading, Pa., took a major step toward capturing some of the $300 million worth of the region's annual electrical product sales over the next few years. The company has entered an agreement to purchase the assets and seven branch locations of Branch Group's New England Division, effective June 25.

The Branch Group locations in Stoughton, Boston, Framingham and Woburn, Mass.; New London and Waterbury, Conn.; and Salem, N.H., will become part of Sonepar's newly formed North East Electrical Distributor (NEED) Division, which will be based in Stoughton after the acquisition is completed.

With the addition of the Branch Group locations, NEED has 10 stocking branch locations serving the electrical contractor market with counter service in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Sonepar acquired the other three branches that make up NEED-Worcester and Walpole, Mass.; and Providence, R.I.-from All-Phase Electric Supply Co., Benton Harbor, Mich., in January.

NEED and Eagle Electric Supply, which Sonepar bought last September, will operate as separate divisions in New England. Much of Eagle Electric Supply's business is in industrial products such as drives, motors and controllers, specializing in industrial maintenance and original equipment manufacturer markets. The former All-Phase branches, on the other hand, were true contractor-oriented operations with strong counter business.

Combined, NEED and Eagle Electric Supply expect to report $180 million in annualized sales for 1999, according to Richard Worthy, president of Sonepar Distribution US.

Eagle Electric Supply has four locations: its headquarters and 68,000-sq-ft distribution center in Norwood, Mass., and sales offices in New Bedford, Mass., and Providence and Cranston, R.I.

The acquisition of Branch Group New England's Stoughton headquarters, which includes a 55,000-sq-ft central distribution center (CDC), will be a key to Sonepar's further expansion in the region, according to Worthy. He said four senior managers from Branch Group's New England operations have departed, and the rest of the over 100 employees are being evaluated for fit with the new organization.

Sonepar Distribution US is a subsidiary of Sonepar Distribution of Paris, France.