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Tech Data heads to Europe, buys French computer firm

Tech Data Corp., a Clearwater-based computer distribution giant, announced Friday that it will buy a French computer company in a $22-million stock swap.

The acquisition of Softmart International in Paris will give Tech Data an entry into the growing European personal computer market, said Arthur W. Singleton, Tech Data's treasurer and corporate secretary.

"The company is a very well-run company and has been very profitable," he said. "It happens to be the largest wholesale distributor for computers in France."

Softmart employs 120 people and last year generated $135-million in revenues. It will become a subsidiary of Tech Data, which last year hit the $1-billion annual sales mark and is expanding rapidly, inside and outside the United States.

Tech Data expanded into Canada in 1989 via acquisition and in early 1993 it developed a division for Latin America and the Caribbean. In January it announced an acquisition of a California software distributor. It also is expanding its Clearwater operation by hundreds of jobs.

"In our global economy, it has become increasingly important to offer manufacturers and publishers of personal computer products the ability to distribute their products on a worldwide basis," said Steven A. Raymund, Tech Data's chairman and CEO.

Softmart distributes about 10,000 products for more than 200 vendors, including Apple Computer, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Lotus Development and Microsoft. Perhaps more important, Softmart has relationships with more than 4,500 French value-added resellers, consultants who design systems for particular purposes or businesses.

Europe is one of the fastest-growing world markets for personal computer products and services, Singleton said. But until recently, most of the distributors rarely crossed country or cultural lines. As those barriers fall in Europe, companies like Softmart may become more significant players throughout the continent, Singleton said.

The sale involves a transfer of all of Softmart stock in exchange for 600,000 shares of Tech Data stock, valued at $22-million, Singleton said. The closing of the deal, expected by April 30, is contingent upon the finalization of exchange values and regulatory approval.