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Grainger Show Aims to Highlight ‘Solutions’ in an Uncertain Environment

In addition to products, the MRO giant offered fixes for customers' thorniest problems.

Grainger Show at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 12, 2024.
Grainger Show at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 12, 2024.
Andy Szal/Industrial Distribution

ORLANDO, Fla. — W.W. Grainger’s biennial company trade show returned to its pre-pandemic form this winter as the maintenance, repair and operations giant sought to highlight its solutions as well as its supplies.

After a somewhat smaller Grainger Show took place in early 2022, more than 10,500 people — including customers, suppliers and Grainger staff — descended on the Orange County Convention Center in mid-February for the 18th edition of the expo, featuring nearly 500 booths hosted by suppliers.

Pxl 20240212 201019201Andy Szal/Industrial DistributionThe event reflected Grainger’s continued position atop the North American industrial distribution market — the company has long held the no. 1 spot on ID’s annual Big 50 list — as well as how the company hopes to evolve to meet a constantly changing industrial climate.

The trade show floor was bounded at its four corners by Grainger’s “solutions centers.” Grainger officials at each station offered discussions and demonstrations of the company’s options for operations, inventory, procurement and safety operations.

Grainger officials said that although the company continues to meet its financial targets and outperform its market as a whole — net sales rose by 5% in its latest quarter and more than 8% annually to nearly $16.5 billion in 2023 — the company has emphasized learning more about customers’ pain points and focusing on ways to address them.

Paige Robbins, Grainger senior vice president and the president of Grainger Business Unit — the company’s overall commercial operations — told reporters at the convention that the company has invested in gaining knowledge about both products and customers, as well as in inventory solutions, merchandising and marketing.

Pxl 20240212 200845864Andy Szal/Industrial DistributionThe inventory management hub highlighted the company’s KeepStock vendor-managed inventory program, which ranges from software and vending to sourcing solutions and on-site support in numerous formats. Visitors saw demonstrations of the company’s current and forthcoming vending options, which will offer increasingly flexible size and tracking options for vital MRO supplies.

The procurement hub featured Grainger’s consulting services — including virtual renderings of facility and warehouse optimization — while the safety and maintenance and facility operations sites offered a look at guidance from Grainger’s in-house experts or, when specialized expertise or labor is required, from the company’s third-party partners.

The consulting services, Grainger officials noted, are generally low- or no-cost, while the third-party safety and facility services are largely fee-based. Rather than contribute further to the company’s bottom line, said Kevin Hartler, the senior director of Grainger Consulting Services, those features demonstrate Grainger’s commitment to its partners — and offer a compelling argument in favor of the company’s bread-and-butter industrial supplies.

Although valued-added services are particularly vital in the current industrial climate, Grainger isn’t content to stand pat from a product or footprint standpoint, either. The company expects to begin operations at its new distribution center in Oregon later this year, and just days before the opening of the Orlando show, officials announced another new distribution center in South Texas. Robbins added that Grainger continues to add sellers, as well — part of a plan to maintain growth even as early indicators suggest that the market could remain sluggish well into 2024. Grainger, for its part, has offered an initial forecast for sales growth between 4.3% and 7.3% for the full year.

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