In 1969, the same year Neil Armstrong took a giant leap for mankind, Sonepar's acquisition of Comptoir d’Électricité Franco-Belge kicked off a series of acquisitions that would mark the beginning of our transformation into the number one in the industry in France, and ultimately in the world.
A century of innovation
Since its inception in 1919, Franco Belge has served as a bridge between present and future. The company has always pursued a bold vision, fueled by the most advanced innovations of every era. Throughout its 100 years of operation, it has successfully navigated the tidal wave of progress stretching from the Industrial Revolution to the Tech Revolution.
Through the Great Depression and the inter-war years, Franco Belge maintained a steadfast commitment to providing its customers with ever more quality, comfort and safety. During the Trente Glorieuses, a period of unprecedented growth in France following the end of the Second World War, the company responded to the changing needs of its customers in rapidly transforming cities, building a dense network of agencies where it offered an unparalleled range of electric services to those rebuilding after the destruction of the world wars.
Through the 1950s and ’60s, working closely with its partner suppliers, the company helped strengthen ties throughout the electric industry, while carrying out forward-thinking projects large and small: from the company’s early introducing self-service facilities for customers, to anticipating the important role of merchandizing. In addition, Franco Belge revolutionized inventory management by laying the groundwork for a massive central warehouse. It anticipated emerging trends in lighting and architecture, while diversifying into specialist fields like low currents to offer greater automation, connectivity and data exchange – well before the age of Big Data.
A landmark acquisition
By the late 1960s, recognizing the immense potential of Franco Belge, the Coisne and Lambert families moved to acquire this leading company in the Ile-de-France region, an investment that led to the creation of Sonepar. 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.”
By carving out a place in this market, Sonepar began to grow at speed. The Group quickly adopted a strategy of acquiring other French regional distributors, consolidating its presence in France until its distribution network covered the mainland. The company also spread beyond the borders of France with acquisitions in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, and later across the Atlantic and eventually into China and Australia.
Franco Belge celebrated its 100th anniversary on October 25
Putting the customer first
As Sonepar’s strategy was firmly rooted in respecting the local nature of the distribution business, it allowed the companies it acquired to keep their names, management and a great deal of autonomy: they were the specialists in their markets and Sonepar valued and respected this local knowledge.
At Franco Belge, this meant putting the customer first. Prior to the age of massive central warehouses and digitized customer relationships, customers would visit their local Franco Belge agency, where staff served coffee and frequently greeted each customer by name. A central component of our growth over the decades – this tradition of fostering long-term, human relationships with customers – continues to this day throughout our culture at Sonepar.
Indeed, this focus on customers inspired a strategy of creating smaller, local agencies to improve the way Sonepar serves its customers, by responding to their needs directly at the source.
Franco Belge celebrated its 100th anniversary on October 25 with Sonepar Chairman Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette and Sonepar CEO Philippe Delpech (left)
Building the future of the Group
Under Sonepar’s ownership, Franco Belge continued to evolve with the times, notably by adopting digital platforms to offer more services and fast, local responses to customer needs. For this reason, Franco Belge is one of a group of companies that will soon become Sonepar Connect, a unique brand offering that will provide greater flexibility and visibility, while also serving as dynamic venue for sharing, expertise and advice. Sonepar Connect will combine six distribution centers and 300 branches, with more than 2,300 associates offering next-day delivery on 30,000 products. True to the values of the Group, Sonepar Connect will combine the strength of a national brand with the local knowledge to answer customer needs – digitally or in-store.
At Sonepar, we think of our Group as one big family of long-running companies. On behalf of the whole Sonepar family, we tip our hats to Franco Belge as it celebrates its 100th anniversary and joins Sonepar Connect. We look forward to all the innovations and achievements that the next 100 years will have in store for Franco Belge, and the rest of brands in our Group.
For more on the history of Franco Belge, check out this video...