Grainger Launches Plumbing Catalog

Continuing its push to delve deeper into its product lines, maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) marketer W.W. Grainger introduced a 318-page catalog devoted to plumbing supplies in March.

The new catalog’s product line includes water heaters and coolers, pipes, valves, fittings, fixtures, faucets, and water filtration systems. “We bolstered our offering in several key categories this year, including plumbing, material handling, fasteners and security products,” says Steve Dahl, product manager for plumbing. The company expects to expand its overall merchandise offering by 25,000 SKUs, which will cost Grainger $3 million-$5 million.

“Prior to this year, we had 4,000 [plumbing] items, and we’ve added 12,000 items,” Dahl says. Sales of plumbing supplies account for 9% of total sales at the $5.9 billion distributor. Grainger expects the product expansion to lift revenue by 1%-2%.

The move into plumbing supplies follows Grainger’s expansion last year into fasteners, such as nuts, washers, screws, and bolts. The company’s core 2006 catalog, which mailed last April, included some 30,000 fasteners, as well as 10,000 new products in categories such as electrical, cleaning, material handling, plumbing, and ventilation.

Lake Forest, IL-based Grainger isn’t mailing the plumbing catalog. Rather, the plumbing title is being distributed by field sales representatives, who leave it with customers as a reference. Grainger has 1.7 million active customers.

“Every [MRO] customer has some sort of plumbing need,” says Dahl, adding that contractors, facilities managers, and procurement executives need access to maintenance supplies across multiple product categories. “We’re trying to make Grainger a one-stop source for our customer.”

In addition to its core catalog, Grainger mails specialty titles such as industrial safety and signage supplies book Lab Safety, agricultural maintenance catalog Ben Meadows, and AW Direct, which sells equipment for towing companies and service stations. Besides the U.S., Grainger sells products in Canada, China, and Mexico. It has nearly 600 branches, 17 distribution centers, and a plethora of specialty Websites.

It’s not only the company’s product line that has been enhanced: Grainger.com has been upgraded as well. The site includes new search and selections functions and cross-referencing tools to help customers narrow their selection. Offline, Dahl says, Grainger has increased its employee training on products so that if Web customers call in, phone reps can more quickly help them find what they need.

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