What started as a small sales meeting in Orlando, FL. more than a decade ago has since turned into the continuously expanding Grainger Show. In its eleventh year, the tradeshow brought together thousands of the mega-distributor’s customers, suppliers and employees. More than 17,000 people attended this year’s event, held Feb. 15-17, looking at the 750 booths of supplier displays, gaining insight at the many educational seminars and networking with experts of every industry.
During a media roundtable at the 2015 Grainger Show, CEO Jim Ryan sat down to discuss some recurring themes Grainger is seeing in the marketplace. Some of the topics Ryan says Grainger is focusing on most include its social media commitment, its e-Commerce channel and the continued agenda surrounding safety.
Some highlights from the discussion include:
Social Media Commitment
When it comes to Grainger’s strategic objectives through social media in 2015, Ryan said communication is the bottom line.
“Social media lets us communicate two ways,” Ryan explained. “One, it allows us to communicate with our customers in ways that we haven’t before and that definitely has its reward. And two, social media is a way for us to listen.”
The MRO supplier believes in following the generational trends by staying connected online. Ryan said while having younger populations move into the workforce is very much beneficial, it’s important to understand their way of communicating, since it is “a lot different than a lot of us grew up with.”
Grainger is continually trying to add value and good communication efforts with its customer base. To do so, Ryan says the company has to be comfortable doing it through social media.
“It’s a way for us to listen to what’s going on in the marketplace,” Ryan said. “If there’s a trend with OSHA compliance going on somewhere and our customers are talking about it, it’s a great way for us to see what’s relevant.”
Grainger can then take the topical information and try to provide its customers with solutions. Ryan believes it allows his company to keep up with the trends in “real time” so that they’re able to respond quickly and efficiently.
Located inside Grainger’s headquarters in Lake Forest, Ill., the team is constantly pulling in live content via its social media channels. This gives Grainger insight into what hot trends or relevant issues are being talked about in the social universe, allowing them to develop white papers, seminars and other learning opportunities around what’s “hot.”
Depending on the positivity or negativity of certain topics being talked about in the social world, they key words will actually change color.
Green, for example, is a topic that is being talked about in a positive light, while blue is neutral and red is associated with a negative connotation. So, for example, if there was a death or violation on a plant floor, and everyone in the social universe was talking about it, the key word “safety” would turn red.
Tracy Crane, Senior Social Media Specialist at Grainger, said safety impacts everybody, regardless of the industry. That’s why she believes it has continually been one of the most talked about trends throughout the social world, including Twitter, Linked In and Facebook.
Safety will continue to be a key area of focus for Grainger this year. Ryan said the safety platform makes up nearly 18 percent of the entire company.
Grainger expects its safety product category to continue to be one of its fastest growing categories this year, but they’ll be putting more emphasis on growing its service offerings specifically.
In early September 2014, the company began partnering with the National Safety Council to help focus on some fresh resources for its safety services.
One such safety platform Grainger has rolled out is thanks to its recent acquisition of Safety Solutions, Inc.
Safety Solutions is a distributor of safety footwear, supplies and services with a strong focus on the manufacturing sector. The acquisition has allowed Grainger to deliver safety footwear on-site to manufacturing facilities and work with the management program to track purchasing and compliance for each individual customer.
Ryan said while Grainger has big money in safety, he also makes sure Grainger employees are making safety a priority. “We’ve paid attention to safety for a long time in our business,” he said. “It’s pretty tough to be able to sell safety if we’re not practicing it ourselves.”
This year, Grainger is looking to center all its efforts on ways to help organizations get more efficient. Ryan said one way the distributor is looking to do that is through its e-Commerce channel. He said the channel is a “real functional technology that helps to streamline those processes.”
It has been about a year since the launch of Grainger’s mobile app and between that and the complete redesign of the website, Ryan sees it as a big hit with procurement managers.
A few of the changes the site has seen this year include the introduction of location lists and the opportunity to “chat with an expert.” The location lists allow customers to view products currently available in their area, while chatting with a Grainger expert can help make the search a little less daunting.
Another enhanced feature of the Grainger site is the search option. As customers type, key words will pop up. The tool will pre-select and customize options as you type.
Since the advancements of the e-Commerce channel, Grainger has experienced an uptick in both the number of customers visiting the site through the mobile app and the number of mobile app orders being picked up at Grainger branch locations, rather than being shipped.
Grainger is still in the early innings of building its service offerings. Ryan said there has been a trend in the industry where companies are pushing more and more of what they do onto their suppliers.
“Whether it’s safety training, helping manage their inventory, etc., companies are just looking to focus more of their resources on the things that are important to the business,” Ryan said.
It’s an important opportunity for Grainger to pick up some of these services so their customers can stay more focused, Ryan added.
“Everything we sell, you can go and buy somewhere else,” Ryan said. “So, we live and die by the service we provide our customers.”