After moving the company to Birmingham, England, Frederick York Wolseley forms Wolseley Engineering Limited to further exploit his sheep shearing patents and other agricultural equipment, including the stationary engine. Herbert Austin becomes his works manager and the two start to experiment in the manufacture of motor cars.
The company produces the first Wolseley motor car, a brand which is to become one of the UK’s most popular motor cars.
During the 1950s, Wolseley expands to manufacture a successful range of electric fencing and motor cultivators. In 1958, the company merges with Geo H Hughes, and is renamed Wolseley-Hughes. The alliance is an ideal partnership for both companies and on 1 May 1958 good friends Cyril Hughes, Deputy Chairman of Geo H Hughes and Rodney Drake, Chairman and Managing Director of Wolseley Engineering agree the merger. The £1 ordinary shares are quoted at 20 shillings and sixpence.
The business is still relatively small, Wolseley sales are £1.2 million, Hughes £900,000. Both companies employ around 500 people.
With the purchase of Droitwich Spa based Nu-Way Heating Limited in 1960, the company makes a significant acquisition which is to have a great impact on the Group’s development. Nu-Ways spare parts components business leads to a small subsidiary which, on widening its product range, becomes OBC (Oil Burner Components).
OBC grows both organically and via acquisition with the purchase of Granville Controls and Yorkshire Heating Supplies.
The three businesses - OBC, Granville Controls and Yorkshire Heating Supplies are the main constituents of Wolseley-Hughes Merchants, which commences business on 1 August 1973, and is today known as Wolseley UK. The subsidiary originally distributed spare parts for burners but as the UK central heating market expands, the business also begins to distribute domestic system radiators and boilers.
1979 – Rapid Growth Begins
Wolseley acquires the publicly quoted John James Group of Companies Limited, which includes several manufacturing companies and a significant distributor of industrial pipe, valves and fittings, which now trades as Pipe Center within Wolseley UK.
4 January, Wolseley registers as a public limited company. As part of its expansion programme, Wolseley purchases Ferguson Enterprises, a distributor of plumbing supplies with around 50 branches on the East Coast of the United States.
With the Group increasingly focused on developing its distribution businesses, both of the original engineering companies, that had become Wolseley Webb, and Hughes are sold.
Wolseley UK is established to distribute building products. The division operates under Plumb Center, Controls Center and Pipe Center.
The Group looks to Europe to grow its business and in 1992 purchases France’s leading supplier of plumbing supplies, Brossette. Following this acquisition the Group moves into Austria, Hungary, Germany and the Czech Republic. The deal with OAG Gruppe in Austria establishes Wolseley as the world leader in plumbing and heating supplies.
Wolseley expands its burner and boiler business with the purchase of Enertech from Trellebourg of Sweden, with this acquisition came HRPC, now part of Wolseley UK.
Wolseley completes five acquisitions in the US for around £97 million.
After strengthening its position in Europe, the Group boosts its US operations with six further acquisitions. In 1998, integration of Familian and Ferguson Enterprises begins. Together the businesses account for more than half of Wolseley’s US distribution revenues. In the same year the Group purchases UK building supply firm Hall and Co and US lumber company Stock Lumber. November sees the acquisition completed of the Porcher distribution business by Wolseley’s French subsidiary Brossette. In addition, in the last quarter, four new businesses are acquired for the US operations.
In the first quarter of 1999, a further £38 million is spent acquiring five distribution businesses in the US, UK and the Group’s first acquisition in the Republic of Ireland; Heatmerchants, a distributor of heating and plumbing products and ceramic tiles. European growth gathers pace again with the acquisition of Manzardo in Italy and CFM in Luxembourg.
The late 1990s see the Group continue its withdrawal from engineering by selling off its boiler and burner businesses. In addition, in 2000, Cinven purchases most of Wolseley’s manufacturing businesses for around £215 million. Two further businesses are acquired in the US: Terry Companies, a timber distribution business and Anderson Lumber company, a major supplier of building materials.
Over the last 20 years the Group has expanded its building materials businesses through bolt on acquisitions and organic growth. In February 2001, with the disposal of the majority of the Enertech business it acquired in 1993, Wolseley finally exits the manufacturing industry and becomes completely focused on distribution activities. Wolseley expands into Canada through the acquisition of Westburne plumbing operations for around £250 million. The UK operations of Nationwide Refrigerations Supplies are bought by Wolseley UK for around £22 million. In May 2001, Wolseley is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company buys Clayton, the fourth largest wholesale distributor of waterworks, wastewater and storm drainage material in the US for approximately £77 million. The Wasco Group is purchased for £38 million and sees Wolseley expanding into Holland. Wasco is the market leader in Holland in the sale of heating equipment and spares. In addition, a further five more acquisitions, totalling around £33 million are added to Wolseley’s operations in the US, Canada and the UK.
A further four distribution acquisitions in the US and Canada are completed in January for approximately £37 million. April 2003, sees Pinault Bois & Materiaux (PBM) acquired by Wolseley plc for around £390 million. PBM is the second largest heavyside distributor in France concentrating on the distribution of building materials and timber. Wolseley acquires the Tobler business for around £52 million. Tobler is a leading wholesaler for heating, ventilation, airconditioning and sanitation products and is also the leading provider of technical maintenance services in Switzerland. The European management team is established.
Further acquisitions in Europe and North America have been added to Wolseley’s operations. The Brooks Group in Ireland, Klöckner Stahl und Metall in Austria, three companies in France, four in the USA and one in Canada.
Further acquisitions in Europe and North America are added to Wolseley’s operations. 1 August, the North American management team is formed. Wolseley also moves into a new country, Belgium, through the acquisition of Centratec and new product areas – electricals and insulation – through the acquisitions of William Wilson and Encon in the UK.