A world leader at 50
Fifty years: it’s both a lot and a little for this family-run French company, which today is the world leader in the distribution of electrical products, solutions and related services. Sonepar has 46,000 associates and annual sales totaling €22.4 billion.
Through its 170 operational subsidiaries and 2,800 branches, the Group has a presence in 44 countries, supporting more than a million professional clients across the construction, manufacturing and energy sectors.
It's been 50 years of making history, and we invite you to celebrate with us, first with this special 50 year film.
The foundation of Sonepar
Sonepar’s earliest origins go back a long way, but the Group’s entrepreneurial, conquering spirit has been a constant. The company traces its roots back to 1867, when the Coisne and Lambert family textile weaving business was created in the north of France.
Over the next century, it would develop and begin to diversify. 1960 marked a turning point. It was the year when Paul Coisne, with 10 other shareholders belonging to the fourth generation of the Coisne and Lambert families, created la Société de Négoce et de Participation. This new enterprise was dedicated to managing the Group’s activity outside its primary textile business.
A few years later, Bernard Coisne and this board of descendants would decide upon electrical material distribution as a promising new business. In 1969, the first sizeable investment was made with the acquisition of le Comptoir d’Electricité Franco-Belge, a leader in the Ile-de-France region. Henri Coisne, the direct descendant and namesake of the manufacturer who founded the family company a century before, would take the reins of Sonepar.
Henri was quick to realize the sector’s potential. There was an opening in the market for electrical materials distribution and, in carving out a place here, Sonepar began to grow at speed. Much later, as company president, Henri Coisne would say: “In developing this very particular savoir-faire in the sector, we helped to mold what this profession would become.”
The animated history
Delve deeper into the history of Sonepar, from its humble origins as a linen company to the world leader it is today, with these three short animated films.
Our national expansion
Sonepar grew and developed across France, making successive regional acquisitions, including the Comptoir Lyonnais d'Electricité and Sanelec. The particular culture that resulted from the company’s firm familial foundation helped it stand out from the national – and, later, European and then global – competition. This solid base strengthened throughout the decades and endures still today.
The company has always placed a high value on flexibility and adaptability. It is thanks to this approach that, as Sonepar has matured, it has continued to foster a global strategy that works in tandem with its decentralized subsidiaries, offering them local autonomy. This ethos of “cross-fertilization” has been key to Sonepar's success: the ability for global to learn from local, and for an overarching digital strategy to dovetail with an ongoing proximity to bricks-and-mortar markets and clients. Think global vision paired with local know-how.
Another pillar of its success is the trust Sonepar has always placed in its associates, putting faith in their skills and expertise in their field, as well as their knowledge of the local landscape. The company operates with cultural respect, showing understanding for the variation across its different entities and maintaining an open dialogue. It is at once an international Group and a family business, still headquartered in Paris, but with operational subsidiaries throughout the world.
From France to a global leader
In 1977, Sonepar and its 1,275 associates achieved full coverage across France. At this time, the company presided over 57 outlets and 50,000 clients. It was also already looking beyond the borders of l’Hexagone and in 1982, Sonepar moved into Europe with the acquisition of Otra, market leader in the Netherlands and Germany. Sonepar’s internationalization had begun.
In 1984, 15 years after its entry into the electrical distribution market, Sonepar covered 100% of mainland France. By 1991, it was number one in France. At the same time, the Group had already made moves across the Atlantic, acquiring Lumen in Canada (also in 1984), a first foothold in the North American market. In 1998, with the acquisition of NorthEast Electrical Distributors, Sonepar established its activity in the US. This was also the year that the founder’s daughter, Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette, who had already been in the company for a number of years, stepped up to take on the chairmanship of the Group.
Into Asia and South America
In 2000, Sonepar embarked on a new adventure by expanding into the Asian market, thanks to the acquisition of Supermoon in Hong Kong, as well as into Central America and Mexico. From this time, its international growth would accelerate at pace.
In 2002, via expansion into Brazil (through Emel), the Group would enter into another significant market – South America. In 2006, Sonepar surpassed €10 billion of revenue.
A new watershed in the company’s international growth came in 2008, when Sonepar joined with Rexel to acquire the No. 3 electrical parts distributor Hagemeyer. The new endeavor was a success. The company’s product offer and range of services and solutions expanded, creating new opportunities (including, for example, integrated supply chains), while consolidating a presence in a total of 35 countries, allowing Sonepar to accelerate its development in the North American and Asian markets. In the 10 years that followed, Sonepar grew and reinforced its presence across all continents – from Great Britain to India, via Colombia and Peru, Thailand, New Zealand and more. Thanks to a tranche of new acquisitions (Codale, QED, Eck Supply), as well as sustained organic growth, the US became the Group’s largest market.
A global leader at 50 years old
Sonepar continues to forge its path, always calling on the collective experience of its family shareholders, with their aptitude for combining internal and external growth and seizing opportunities as they arise. It continues to hone its product ranges and solutions to offer the strongest added value possible, while leveraging technological innovation to serve new markets, including intelligent buildings, connected and intelligent lighting solutions and renewable energy.
In 2019, Sonepar is one of the largest actors in its sector. The company celebrates its 50th birthday with a strong focus on the future and a solid grasp of where markets will go next – and how the company will adapt, in turn. The approach can be summed up both from the founder's oft-cited philosophy, “What counts is what lasts”, as well as the current president’s maxim: “What lasts is what knows how to adapt.” Sonepar is a growing proof of these twin philosophies.
“What counts is what lasts... And to last we need to adapt.” Henri Coisne and Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette