Sonepar USA, Berwyn, Pa., a subsidiary of the Paris-based Sonepar SA, plans to acquire the Stuart C. Irby Co., a move that would give it a significant presence in the south central United States and make it the nation's third biggest utility distributor.

Charles Irby, chairman, and Stuart M. Irby, president, will step down from their positions effective with the completion of the acquisition. Stuart M. Irby will serve on the advisory board for Sonepar/Stuart C. Irby and be a consultant for the company, he said.

With $400 million in annual sales and 35 branches, Stuart C. Irby, Jackson, Miss., is the industry's 16th largest electrical distributor, according to Electrical Wholesaling's 2005 Top 200 listing. The company has branches in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. The company's utility business has a branch in Syracuse, N.Y.

Sonepar is a family-owned business that's grown into the world's second largest electrical distributor, with more than $8.4 billion in sales, 1,150 branches and 20,000 employees in 29 countries across four continents. Sonepar USA, the 36-year-old company's North American entity, ranks No. 7 on EW's Top 200 ranking. The acquisition of Irby would boost the company up to the No. 5 spot in that listing.

Sonepar USA currently operates on the East Coast, in the Midwest and on the West Coast, and the proposed Irby acquisition would give it access to seven new states in the south central United States. Sonepar's only presence in that region right now is through its World Electric Supply/Warren del Caribe regional operation, which has locations in Florida, the Caribbean and, most recently, Atlanta.

Tony Burr, president of Sonepar USA, said the company is looking forward to joining forces with Irby's associates and management team, who will continue to operate under the leadership of Michael C. Wigton, chief operating officer.

“This important acquisition provides a unique opportunity for Sonepar to enter into the utility market sector and expand our existing industrial product and service offering,” he said.