Electrical Wholesaling’s editors thought our readers might be interested in some of the stories behind the numbers in this year’s Top 200 listing, so we are publishing capsule summaries of what’s happening with some of the largest Top 200 distributors. We based these reports on news articles we published on these firms over the past 12 months, company websites and other public information sources. Writing up capsules on all 200 companies on this listing would take more than 30 pages of the magazine, but we thought you might enjoy some additional information on the some of the largest distributors in North America.
1. Sonepar North America
Parent: Sonepar SA, Paris
2011 North American sales: $6.74 billion; parent company’s sales up 10% from 2010.
2011 was a big year for acquisitions by the North American market’s largest electrical distribution company. Sonepar, privately held and based in Paris, France, bagged two trophy operations in southern California for its North American subsidiary, with back-to-back acquisitions of Independent Electric Supply, San Carlos, Calif., (#18 on last year’s Top 200 list) and OneSource Distributors, Oceanside, Calif., (#23 last year). With its model of acquiring strong independent regional distributors and keeping their identities and often their management teams intact, Sonepar has a kaleidoscopic look to it, but it’s been an effective model. Through its Irby subsidiary, Sonepar also acquired Treadway Electric (#109 last year), Little Rock, Ark., in December 2011, and in February Sonepar Canada bought the assets of SESCO/QUESCO from HD Supply.
2011 sales: $5.98 billion; total company sales up 20.97% from 2010.
ERP system: Wesnet
As the largest publicly traded electrical distributor in the U.S., WESCO International has a public profile to match the breadth of its operations. In building its current 400 locations in North America fed by eight distribution centers, the Pittsburgh giant historically grew by acquisitions, but in recent years has focused on organic growth and smaller, niche-market additions. In March 2011, WESCO acquired RECO, Cincinnati, a Siemens automation, controls and electrical distributor with annual sales of approximately $25 million and six branches in the Midwest and South.
In Canada, WESCO added Brews Supply, based in Calgary, which is not a source for beer or beer ingredients, alas, but instead sells industrial, utility and commercial products generating sales around $50 million in 2010. The acquisition of RS Electronics, Livonia, Mich., announced in December 2011 and consummated in January this year, further added to WESCO’s position in electronics and electrical, especially for the auto, medical and contract manufacturing markets.
Town/City: St. Louis
2011 sales: $5.395 billion; net sales increased 16.4% over 2010.
ERP system: SAP
Graybar, one of the largest employee-owned companies in North America, with 240 locations throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico fed by seven regional, or zone, warehouses, continued to strengthen its financial position in 2011. Graybar recapitalized in October with a $500 million, five-year unsecured revolving line of credit. It was the largest financing agreement in Graybar’s history and the company planned to use much of it to retire debt.
Amid a number of personnel changes, Kathleen Mazzarella was named to the newly created position of executive vice president and chief operating officer before stepping up to the president’s role to start 2012. Frank Hughes retired as head of Graybar Canada after 40 years and Peter Horncastle stepped into that role. In other news at Graybar, the company opened up several new branches and is working with solar firm Ontility to provide PV training for electrical contractors.
Parent: Rexel SA, Paris
ERP system: Moving toward Epicor Eclipse
2011 sales: $4.984 billion; parent company’s sales up 6.2% over 2010.
Between the operations under its own name and those of its subsidiary Gexpro, the global big dog in electrical distribution has a large and expanding presence in the North American market. Paris, France-based Rexel wasn’t active on the North American acquisition scene in 2011 (though last month’s acquisition of Platt Electric, Beaverton, Ore., along with several large acquisitions in South America and Europe over the past few months, may signal a different story in 2012). The company reportedly spent much of the year integrating past acquisitions and converting to a new enterprise-wide software platform. Among significant personnel moves, the company named Rudy Provoost, former worldwide head of Philips Lighting, to its management board. Provoost took over the board chairmanship in February this year.
5. Anixter International
Town/City: Skokie, Ill.
2011 sales: $4.26 billion
Anixter is the world’s largest specialty wire and cable distributor, and as an early entrant in the market for low-voltage communication wiring has helped to build that market. 2011 saw it moving further into the automation space by partnering with system integrators through groups such as the Control System Integrators Association, as well as emphasizing its offerings in the robust data center market and developing capabilities in in-building wireless. The publicly traded distributor was already active in a number of international markets, and in 2011 established a joint venture in Saudi Arabia to serve the Middle Eastern market.
6. Consolidated Electrical Distributors
Town/City: Irving, Texas
Employees: 6,200 (estimated)
CED started 2011 by moving its headquarters from Westlake Village, Calif., to Irving, Texas, thanks to $1.2 million in incentives from Texas Governor Rick Perry. The also company made news earlier this year with its acquisition of Walters Wholesale Electric, Signal Hill, Calif.
CED never says anything in the business press about any of the dozens of acquisitions the Coburn family has made over the years. EW’s editors don’t take it personally — we regularly get calls from Forbes magazine editors looking for CED sales data because the company is one of the largest family-owned companies and ranks high on Forbes’ lists, too. When EW’s editors get the opportunity to talk off the record with managers or former owners of any of the companies that CED purchased, they seem to be happy with the corporation’s hands-off management style.
7. Border States Electric
Town/City: Fargo, N.D.
2011 sales: $1.23 billion; up approximately 20% from 2010.
ERP system: SAP
Buying/marketing group: AD
The employee-owned giant from Fargo may not be nationwide, but it has built a strong position in key regional markets of the Midwest, the mountain states, the Southwest and the south central U.S. It has been particularly active lately in growing the renewable energy products market while maintaining its core expertise in factory automation and utility products as well as residential, commercial and MRO electrical markets.
8. W.W. Grainger
Town/City: Lake Forest, Ill.
Total company sales: $8.1 billion, a 12.5% increase over 2010. Electrical sales account for no less than 15% of total sales.
When Grainger shifted its emphasis from the legendary big red catalog, with its soup-to-nuts offering of industrial maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) supplies, and bet the house on online commerce, the company’s importance to the industry ratcheted upward several notches. Not only does it now rank in the top 10 in sales of electrical supplies — one among many categories of products it stocks and sells — but its online catalog consistently shows the rest of the industry how e-commerce is done. In 2011, Grainger dove deeper into inventory management services and announced an interesting executive development initiative in which its presidents of Grainger U.S. and Grainger International exchanged roles.
9. HD Supply
Shortly before being spun-off from Home Depot in 2007, HD Supply Electrical had a goal to be the largest electrical products distributor in the U.S. market by 2012. Now, with 40 electrical branches throughout the southeast U.S. as well as Texas and Arizona, the company looks more like a super-regional chain with significant depth in the utilities market as well as serving the full range from residential and commercial contractors to industrial facilities’ MRO needs. One utility market insider says HD Supply is by far the largest distributor of utility supplies in North America, based in large part on its 2006 acquisition of Hughes Supply, Orlando.
In 2011, HD Supply sold one of its Canadian divisions, SESCO/QUESCO in the Toronto area, to Sonepar. It also inked a variety of deals with suppliers, partners and service providers to expand its offerings, including an equity investment in Agile Sourcing, a supply integrator for the utility market, and a partnership with N-Dimension Solutions, a software provider for smart-grid security.
10. Crescent Electric Supply
Town/City: East Dubuque, Ill.
2011 sales: $885,405,184; sales increased 15% over 2010.
ERP system: SAP
Buying/marketing group: IMARK
With locations stretching from New York to Alaska, Crescent Electric covers much of the U.S., and covers most of the electrical industry in terms of markets served — from residential and commercial construction to industrial MRO to utilities to agriculture, healthcare and datacom. The company has recently become an Energy Star partner and developed a program focused on improving its own sustainability practices, which included being one of the first electrical distributors to install an electric-vehicle charging station for customers, at its Rockdale, Ill., branch in September 2011. Crescent also made news during the past year by joining IMARK and is now that buying/marketing group’s largest member.
11. Mayer Electric Supply
Town/City: Birmingham, Ala.
2011 sales: $626,000,000; sales increased 10% over 2010.
ERP system: SAP
Buying/marketing group: AD
Mayer Electric is a powerhouse in the southeast U.S., serving the full range of electrical end-use markets. Mayer is also a perennial winner of local “best places to work” awards throughout the region. Owned since 1979 by the family of Charles Collat, Sr., the company went through a rapid expansion in the 1970s and has continued to grow to 50 locations. In 2011 Charles Collat Jr. was promoted to executive V.P. and COO.
The company is a long-time supporter of one of the nation’s best industrial distribution programs at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, right in its backyard.
12. City Electric
Parent company: City Electrical Factors Ltd., a U.K.-based distributor with 1,259 stores in countries.
U.S.-based employees: 1,800
U.S. branches: 371
Known for its profusion of lean, autonomous local branches, City Electric’s network stretches from southern California to Massachusetts (and around the world), but its main concentration is in the southeastern U.S.
The parent company was established in 1951 and according to information on the company’s website (www.cef.co.uk) is the largest electrical distributor in the U.K. with “almost twice as many distribution outlets” as its nearest competitor.