Distributors

Irby moves corporate headquarters, sets sights on sales milestone

By Bridget McCrea

Much like a homeowner would improve upon and expand an existing property to accommodate a growing family, electrical distributor Stuart C. Irby Co., (Irby) had enlarged its corporate headquarters in Jackson, Miss., 27 times over the last 86 years.

“People were always surprised to hear that we were in the same building for more than eight decades,” says Michael Wigton, president of the firm, which was acquired by French global distributor Sonepar Group in 2005. “After making quite a few additions over the years we finally decided to build ourselves a brand new sales center and corporate headquarters.”

With 62 locations and 900 employees across 26 states, Irby serves the industrial, contractor, commercial and utility markets. Its new, 85,000-square-foot sales center and corporate headquarters cost $6 million to build about a block away from its previous facility. “We’ve been here a long time in this community and we wanted to stay here,” Wigton explains. “We just needed a bigger place to accommodate our growing company.”

The fresh start gave Irby the opportunity to incorporate into its new facility many of the sustainable and environmentally friendly products that it sells. “We’re using LED lighting, solar panels, and an electric car charger,” says Wigton. “We’ve created a state-of-the-art facility that doubles as a demonstration area for our own customers.”

Wigton says the new headquarters will help support the growth that the company has experienced since being purchased by Sonepar, whose annual global sales are about $20 billion. “We’ve more than doubled our business since 2005,” says Wigton, who has led the distributor’s operations since shortly before the acquisition.

“Sonepar can finance large customer deals – something that a lot of distributors can’t do because of their size limitations,” Wigton says. In 2011, for example, Irby set its sights on Treadway Electric of Little Rock, Ark., as a potential acquisition target. The oldest electrical distributor in Arkansas, Treadway employed 100 persons and had 14 locations throughout the state. The acquisition was finalized in December. “Sonepar was very supportive of the deal,” says Wigton, “which fit well with its business model to purchase good companies and then support their growth.”

Also working in Irby’s favor is a dedicated employee base that includes 50-year company veterans. “We have a phenomenal group of people, some of whom have been with the company for a very long time,” says Wigton. “That gives us a significant advantage in today’s competitive marketplace.”

With the grand opening of its new headquarters – an event that included a private performance by country legend Travis Tritt – wrapped up, Irby now has its eye set on a new goal:  $1 billion in annual sales. “There’s no doubt that we’re going to reach that level,” says Wigton. “It’s just a matter of when it will happen. We really don’t know the answer to that question yet.”

Credit the reluctant economic recovery with creating some of that uncertainly on Wigton’s part. “There’s so much pent up demand right now that we could begin seeing the kind of growth we experienced between 2005 and 2008,” Wigton predicts. “While we are continually taking on new customers and exploring new opportunities, our existing customers comprise the vast majority of our business, and their buying habits right now are largely dictated by what’s going on economically.”

Other challenges that could impact Irby’s sales growth are the recent acquisitions taking place between some of Irby’s top suppliers, such as ABB’s acquisition of Thomas & Betts, Eaton’s acquisition of Cooper Industries, and General Cable’s purchase of Alcan. “What does this consolidation mean for us? Will these manufacturers start putting leverage on us that they haven’t in the past?” Wigton asks. “Those are the unknowns right now.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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