The Big 50 - ID's Biggest Editorial Challenge

ID editor Mike Hockett takes you through some of the tough decisions made in order to compile this year's Big 50 List and that factors that have made the Big 50 an increasingly challenging — and intriguing — project in recent years.

*This editorial was included in ID's September/October print and digital editions.


Industrial Distribution’s annual Big 50 List is always our biggest project of the year, and it keeps getting tougher.

We’re totally OK with that.

Looking at pre-2011 Big 50 Lists, most were relatively stagnant year-to-year. The top 25 were essentially the same time and time again without much movement up or down the list. That made compiling the Big 50 easier since we could pretty accurately predict within a spot or two where nearly every company would end up on the list, but not very interesting.

That has certainly changed in recent years, and especially so for the 2017 edition. The recent industrial recession, along with a continued breakneck pace of merger and acquisition activity has our Big 50 List constantly evolving lately as we adjust to the market.

Some companies that were mainstays on the Big 50 are no longer included, while others that we previously didn’t consider until recently have now established a solid presence. For example, Anixter International was our No. 7 company as recently as 2015, but then the sale of its fasteners unit reduced its industrial sales enough to drop off our list. On the flipside, Sonepar North America is known as one of the largest electrical distributors in the world. Through recent acquisitions of OneSource Distributors and Industrial Distribution Group (now part of Vallen Distribution), it has raised its industrial profile enough to warrant Big 50 inclusion.

Not all our decisions on what to consider as Big 50 parameters are that easy, though. Some take calculated judgement calls. Wolseley (now Ferguson) was the perennial No. 1 distributor atop our list ever since ID was bought by its current publisher back in 2010. But this year, we made the decision to consider only the company’s industrial division, as we felt it was a much better reflection of the market we cover. As a result, this year’s Big 50 List as a new company taking the No. 1 title.

Likewise, we will consider electrical distributors for the list, but only regarding their industrial sales. There are two electrical distributors on our list that we didn’t consider last year, but will continue to do so going forward.

Because of the constant state of change for the Big 50, my advice would be to not pay so much attention to how far each company moved up or down the list from last year. Some companies on this year’s list moved up despite a decline in sales, and others moved down despite improved sales. Also, since our list is solely based upon each company’s 2016 sales, our 2017 doesn’t list yet reflect the amount of considerable improvement in the industrial supply market since the start of this year. Almost all of the companies on this list that struggled in 2016 have already showed major year-over-year improvement in 2017.

So with all that in mind, I would suggest considering this year’s Big 50 List more as a pure reference guide to the largest players in the industrial distribution sector, rather than a gauge of who is improving or declining.


Our Big 50 List was unveiled over the past week with a 3-part video countdown:

The Big 50 is featured in our September/October print that got mailed out Aug. 31 and our digital edition, both which contain commentary about and/or by those companies. The Big 50 will be posted in its usual easy-reference list format on Sept. 5.