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When One-Plus-One Equals Three 

When One-Plus-One Equals Three 

Here’s what Sonepar USA’s acquisition of North Coast Electric means for the respective companies plus their customers and business partners.


As we’ve all learned from watching shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (or, at least knowing about these shows even if we don’t admit to actually watching them), sometimes matchups work out well and other times they don’t. Some pairings are matches made in heaven, others take a little more work to keep going, and still others just aren’t meant to be.

The same rules apply with business acquisitions, many of which look good at the outset but then, after the covers have been pulled back, just don’t hold the same allure. Luckily for Sonepar USA, that didn’t happen with its latest acquisition. In February, Sonepar acquired North Coast Electric, a family-owned and operated distributor that was founded in 1913. The deal expands Sonepar USA’s presence in the Pacific Northwest, adding 34 branches to the Sonepar USA network across the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and Arizona.

This is the second time Sonepar has increased its Pacific Northwest footprint through acquisition, having purchased Salem, Ore.-based Eoff Electric, in 2003. Calling this latest deal a “great strategic hit” for Sonepar, Scott Schuenke, VP of marketing and communications, says it will help the electrical distributor build out its presence in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

“North Coast Electric gives us a great platform to build on.” Now in the process of integrating into the Sonepar organization, he says the blending has gone well thus far. “We’re now well positioned for growth in the Pacific Northwest market,” he adds, “and we’re pretty excited about it.”

It’s A Good Fit

By acquiring North Coast Electric, Sonepar is also gaining a strong industrial presence in Rockwell Automation—a “win” that will help the acquirer diversify its product portfolio. “For the most part, industrials and contractors often move somewhat counter-instinctively,” Jon Mitchell, president of Sonepar West Region explains, “so the stronger our industrial business, the better it is for our own overall stability in the marketplace.”

North Coast Electric’s President Mike Miller, says the company had several suitors over the years, but that none were good fits for the family-owned distributorship. That changed when Sonepar began to show an interest in a possible acquisition. “We wanted a company that would be a good strategic fit for us,” says Miller. “As we started to go through the sales process, some really obvious synergies began to surface.”

The timing was good. “The Lemman family knew at some point it would want to do something with the business and find a right strategic fit,” he continues, noting that Sonepar was always “very, very high” on North Coast’s list of ideal partners and/or acquirers. “We went through the entire sales process to make sure we all understood everything about the competitive landscape of eventual acquirers. In the end, it worked out both for the Lemman family as well as for all 700 of our associates.”

A Part of Something Bigger

With 34 locations dispersed across five states, North Coast was a force to be reckoned with in the electric distribution industry even before its acquisition by Sonepar. Still, it didn’t take long for its team to realize just what it meant to be part of a much larger organization. “We’re finding out quickly just how many resources and opportunities exist within larger companies,” says Miller. “And while we were already doing a lot of things very well, we’re now going to be able to do them on a much larger scale. That’s creating a lot of excitement internally around here right now.”

According to Miller, both North Coast and Sonepar USA are staying focused on their customers and their employees. “We’re moving steadily, methodically, and carefully through all of that,” he explains.

“We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made so far, and are focused on how this deal is really a ‘one plus one equals three’ proposition,” he continues, “we will be able to deliver more in terms of resources and services to our customers.”

In North Coast Electric, Sonepar USA is getting an organization that runs on age-old family values focused on strong people and leadership. The company prides itself in its disciplined processes and its longevity in a competitive business segment. “That fits in well with us; we look for good businesses with good leadership because electrical distribution is a people business,” says Mitchell. “We want to maintain North Coast Electric’s local market and build on it. We’re not out to change what made them successful.”

In fact, he says that “what made North Coast Electric great will continue to make it great.” In other words, Sonepar isn’t out to change the organization or its people, but rather to continue growing and building upon its strong foundation. “At this point, we’re trying to get wired up and positioned appropriately within the Sonepar USA structure,” Miller adds. “The supplier alignments and the customer focus areas will all remain the same, as is typical with Sonepar.”

No Stone Unturned

Miller expects that North Coast Electric’s branding, culture, and focus will all remain intact, but with the additional support and resources of Sonepar added to the equation. “I don’t expect customers to see any differences except obviously in areas where our territories may have overlapped.” In those areas, Miller says the distributor is “working very hard” on customer messaging, explaining the rationalization of the overlap and how it’s being handled.

“No stone is unturned, and everything is being assessed.” Miller says he’s also speaking directly with many North Coast Electric customers, and continuing to communicate the message that “they’re now going to get more from the fully-integrated organization.”

Blocking and Tackling

As a 700-person distributor, North Coast Electric was already a powerhouse in its markets. But even at that size, Miller says the company made a decision to prepare for a sale rather than take on specific growth initiatives. Now, he says the company is reconsidering some of the initiatives that have been on the backburner.

“We’re putting some of those ideas back on the table, knowing that we’ll now be able to focus on new markets, new services, and digital expansion,” says Miller. “This move will allow us to accelerate services and strategies faster than we could on our own. When you really sit back and look at what you can do when you’re part of a larger organization, it’s definitely exciting. To manage it, we’re looking at what needs to be done first and which opportunities to tackle and prioritize.”

In terms of digital expansion, Schuenke says North Coast Electric will gain access to a complete suite of digital tools and online capabilities. It will be able to leverage Sonepar’s complete library of product data and files, all of which are shared among its various business units.

“They’ll have access to that information very quickly and won’t have to do any of that on their own,” Schuenke points out. “North Coast Electric will also be able to borrow a page from some of its parent company’s successful digital marketing campaigns and then apply those strategies in its own markets. This is a classic example of how much easier it can be to take advantage of what’s already been built, versus having to create it all on your own.”

Calling the acquisition of North Coast Electric “an outstanding fit,” Rob Taylor, president at Sonepar USA, says the level of cooperation and collaboration that’s already happening between the two entities is exceeding expectations. “It feels like we’ve known each other a long time,” says Taylor. “Our cultures, goals, and aspirations are all closely matched. Those are just some of the elements that make this a really good fit for both of us.”


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Bridget 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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