On the Brink of Change: Sager 1960s
An excerpt from "Celebrating 120 Years of Distributing Confidence. A Look Back from the Beginning."
Written by Barbara Jorgensen
In the late 1950s, the world was poised on the brink of big changes, as was Sager Electrical Supply Co. In 1958, Raymond P. Norton Jr. became president of the company, taking the helm from Joseph E. Sager, who had headed the company since 1920. Norton Jr. was committed to maintaining the same philosophy that had worked so well for his father-in-law: hard work, high-quality products; and a focus on the customer.
Norton Jr. took charge of the company two years before the world – and the electronics industry – entered the turbulent decade of the 1960s. Radio, which had been the mainstay of distributors like Sager for decades, had begun to make way for other businesses. In the late 1950s, the space program provided a big market for distribution, as did the military.
The Boston area, with its cluster of colleges and universities, was driving a lot of technological advances of the time. Many of Sager’s customers were based in Cambridge, MA, the hometown of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the various companies that would eventually fuel the growth of the Route 128 high-tech corridor. One such customer was An Wang, found of the Wang Computer company. In the early days, Wang used to pay cash for his products because Joe Sager was very cautious about extending credit to customers. Wang eventually was approved for credit and he and companies such as his bought from Sager during the boom times of the high-tech revolution.
By the late 1960s, under the direction of Ray Sanderson [a legendary Sager figure who played a pivotal role in the company’s history], Sager Electrical Supply had phased out most of its consumer products. The industrial market, powered by original equipment makers (OEMs), represented a growth opportunity, and the transition from electrical to industrial electronics an almost natural evolution. “A lot of electrical products had become smaller and more efficient,” says Van Doty, Sager corporate marketing manager, “and were being used in heavy equipment. “ Electrical products continued to be sold in bulk to OEMs. “These customers had factories that bought and sold parts in much higher volumes,” says Doty.
Industrial electronics were not just a growing market but an area in which many young people wanted to work. “By 1968 we were out of the lighting fixtures and appliances – we still did light bulbs for industrial and electrical MRO,” says Ray Norton III. “The industrial business rose to the top, and the company was finding its niche…”