The Newark brand name is still in evidence, but its future under new parent Datwyler is unclear. Although owner Premier Farnell had, for several years, tried to unite its global distribution businesses under the element14 brand, the Newark name never really went away.
That’s a testament to the strength of a brand that’s endured since 1934 in spite of significant disruption within its parent of 10 years. When I began writing about electronics distribution in the late 1980s I was advised to get my hands on the phonebook-sized Newark Electronics catalog. Back in the day when catalogs were still in print Newark was called “the bible of the industry.”
In its heyday, Newark could be counted upon to have the latest and widest variety of components available through any distributor. Its spec sheets were meticulous and up to date. Designers at electronics companies reportedly would steal the catalog from one another and the pages were so dog-eared and marked up the release of a new catalog was greeted with much anticipation.
Newark’s first owner, Farnell (see time line below), was content to let Newark be Newark for quite a while. Chicago-based Newark was known to be a conservative, well-run business that researched customer needs extensively. Things began to change in the mid-2000s. There was new management at the now-combined Premier Farnell plc; the internet was playing a major role in electronics distribution; and companies were doubling-down on selling components to engineers. In 2006, Harriet Green, formerly a president within Arrow Electronics Inc., was named as the first woman CEO of an electronics distributor. Green’s vision for the collection of Premier Farnell businesses included unity across line cards, operations, systems and brands.
Although products, prices and buying habits still differed across the U.S., the EU and in the Far East, electronics customers increasingly wanted global line cards and services from their distributors. The internet, which provided a lot of visibility into component selection and pricing, was being used for e-commerce and, via social media, as a way for consumers to communicate and to weigh in on products. Online communities were being formed everywhere. In 2009 Premier Farnell launched its element14 online forum. In its early days, the element14 site did not advertise or sell components: it was an “agnostic” site where engineers could collaborate as publically or as privately as they wished.
Element14 then set its sights on being a leader in the digital realm. Over the next few years element14 launched an online buying tool; added CAD tools to its online service offerings and developed the Knode, a one-stop online shop for design prototyping. Newark element14 began to stumble with declining sales and market share. Competing catalogs Digi-Key and Mouser were nipping at its heels. Newark element14 management was in turmoil: presidents joined and then departed from Newark every couple of years. It appeared to many in the industry that the ubiquitous catalog distributor had lost its way.
Although catalog distribution is different than it used to be – catalogs are largely online now; spec sheets are downloaded from the internet; and components can be delivered overnight – the fundamentals are the same. Engineers want a vast array of products to choose from. They want in-depth technical content. They want a partner that knows the components they sell, and they want the correct order to arrive when it is promised. Customers are willing to pay a premium for these services.
Datwyler appears to understand this. During a conference call with analysts Datwyler management acknowledged success in the digital marketplace requires a global presence, technical acumen, superior service and economies of scale. The company, executives said, is prepared to invest in upgrading Premier Farnell’s systems and consolidating its operations.
Brand-wise, Datwyler has retained several names from past acquisitions: Newark’s story may not be over yet. Thanks to the internet, no single catalog will ever again be considered “the bible of the industry.” But it was a nice distinction to have.
From Wikipedia: The firm was first established in 1934 as Newark Electric, a small shop in Chicago that sold radio parts. The name Newark pays homage to Newark, New Jersey, the site of the United States’ first radio station. The company published its first catalog in 1948. In 1968, Newark was acquired by the Premier Industrial Corporation and became the corporation’s Electronics Distribution Division. In 1996 the Premier Industrial Corporation was bought by Farnell Electronics and became part of the Premier Farnell Group. At this point Newark Electronics was moved into Premier Farnell’s Marketing and Distribution Division, where it has remained to date. The company’s website, Newark.com, launched in 1997.
From the Premier Farnell website:
- 1934 – Newark Electronics founded
- 1939 – A.C.Farnell Limited founded
- 1990’s – First to offer eProcurement capabilities
- 1996 – Premier Farnell plc established following Farnell’s purchase of Premier Electronics, which included the Newark Electronics, MCM and Akron Brass brands
- 2004 – Thought leader in RoHS legislation to segregate compliant product
- 2006 – New strategy launched – focus on Design Engineers, Web, Internationalization, and Profitable MRO
- 2007 – Inaugural LiveEdge environmental design challenge; peel-back packaging innovation
- 2008 – iBuy launched
- 2009 – element14 Community launched; introduced DesignLink and award-winning biodegradable packaging; joined the United Nations Global Compact; acquisition of CadSoft
- 2010 – The Ben Heck Show debuts; achieved Platinum level status in the Business in the Community Index; Asia Pacific region becomes element14
- 2011 – The Knode on element14 launched; listed in the Dow Jones sustainability index; element14 TV debuts
- 2012 – Launch of the Raspberry Pi computer; acquisition of Embest
- 2013 – Strategy evolved to focus on Customer Centric Segments, Multichannel Sales & Marketing and International
- 2014 – Acquisition of AVID Technologies