The ownership of Charleston-based Hagemeyer North America Inc. was put in play Tuesday as a larger rival launched a surprise $3.5 billion takeover bid for the parent of the industrial products giant.

Shares of Netherlands-based Hagemeyer NV soared after France's Sonepar, a privately owned distributor of electrical supplies, said it was preparing an all-cash buyout.

Hagemeyer NV released a statement Tuesday saying its board was reviewing the unsolicited offer.

"Hagemeyer is of the opinion that this price significantly undervalues the company," it said. "We intend to meet in order to allow Sonepar to clarify its intentions."

Hagemeyer and Sonepar are among the bigger players in the vast and highly fragmented business of supplying industrial companies with the everyday products they require, including electrical cables, safety equipment and cutting tools.

The U.S. market is estimated to generate $200 billion in annual sales, said Per Ohstrom, a senior vice president for Hagemeyer North America.

"It has a lot of applications across a very broad range of industries — all kinds of manufacturing plants, electrical contractors, government contractors. ... There are a lot of competitors," he said.

While Ohstrom declined to comment on the Sonepar offer, the industry as a whole has been consolidating, he said.

"Hagemeyer is growing by acquisition," he said, noting that the North American unit recently completed its purchase of

Charlotte's Bryant Electric Supply Co. Inc.

Hagemeyer established its foothold in Charleston and the Southeast through such a buyout. In 2000, it acquired locally-based Cameron & Barkley for $265 million, and in early 2003, moved its North American head office to the Lowcountry from Atlanta. It now employs about 200 workers locally.

Sonepar, which is based in Paris, has been moving quickly to snap up smaller rivals to fuel its growth in the U.S. market, where its sales have more than doubled to $2.4 billion since 2004.

Its Sonepar USA division now has operations in 32 states. South Carolina is not among them.

Tuesday's unsolicited bid unleashed speculation that another large rival, Rexel, might make a run at Hagemeyer NV. Rexel, also a French company, released a brief statement Tuesday saying it is "reviewing all its strategic options."