W.W. Grainger Weathers Katrina

Lake Forest, IL-based industrial maintenance, repair and operations distributor W.W. Grainger has 45 of its 400 U.S. branches located in the Gulf Coast region, including two in New Orleans. So when Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, it was a close call for the company.

“We have over 1,000 of our people working in the Gulf Coast area,” says spokesman Robb Kristopher, or about 10% of Grainger’s 15,000 employees. “So this feels like it hit us pretty close to home.” Kristopher adds that the $5.05 billion Grainger, which also owns the Lab Safety Supply catalogs, had nearly 100 people working right in the greater New Orleans area before the disaster, and only earlier this week were they all accounted for.

Grainger personnel were in fact among the first responders to affected areas, providing generators, gas cans, chainsaws, and flashlights to citizens forced from their homes. The company used its network of more than 4,000 suppliers and 5 million products and relied on its branches in Baton Rouge, LA, Mobile, AL, and Jackson, MS to spearhead the relief effort.

Though it is still without power and is currently running on a generator, Grainger’s nearly 50,000 sq.-ft. facility in New Orleans reopened Wed., Sept. 14. The other New Orleans location was not as lucky, however. The approximately 20,000 sq.-ft. building was submerged and sustained significant water damage, and the company is not sure if it will ever reopen, Kristopher says. “Right now that branch is closed indefinitely.”

Grainger expects sales in the Gulf Coast region for August—which prior to Katrina had been tracking 9% higher than the same period in 2004—to be lower as a result of the disaster. But the company said in a statement that the hurricane would likely boost sales for September as rebuilding businesses in the region will need Grainger products.

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