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Commentary: Learning from Industry Leaders

MDM’s Market Movers – MSC, Graybar and others – have a clear focus for how they can best compete.

The last few weeks at MDM have been energizing as we finalize some of our most-anticipated content of the year: Our annual Market Leaders listing of the top 150 distributors across a variety of industry sectors. As part of that process, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with more than a dozen industry leaders from distribution companies we are profiling in accompanying Market Movers features. In anticipation of that content in the August 25 MDM Premium, here are a few of common themes discussed by these executives. I think they encapsulate key reasons why their companies are at the top of their game.

One, they have strategic focus and they communicate it often. All of the executives I spoke with have a clear, articulated business strategy that is divided into multiple pillars affecting all divisions of the business. And that message is reinforced throughout all levels of the company. At Graybar, for example, CEO and President Kathy Mazzarella holds employee conference calls multiple times a year to ensure the Graybar vision is coming through crystal clear. In less than a year, Johnstone Supply President and CEO John Tisera has personally visited at least 48 of the corporation’s 98 member companies, reinforcing Johnstone’s value proposition and learning about critical street-level dynamics. 

Two, they know the future of the industry is centered in the strength of its people. MSC Industrial acknowledges the growing skills gap — with an expected 2 million jobs vacant in the next five or six years — and is tackling it head-on. Its Better MRO website aims to be a “a hub of the community,” says Steve Baruch EVP, chief strategy and marketing officer, bringing together nearly 100,000 active users a month to learn about the latest skills, share knowledge and interact with each other. Graybar is participating in an innovation lab at the University of Illinois where more than a dozen interns are addressing complex business problems, setting up prototypes and working through the challenges of today and the future. “There’s some really exciting stuff happening there,” says Graybar SVP and Chief Strategy Officer Randy Harwood. 

Three, they make smart use of data and technology. Global Industrial is leveraging its data on customer experience to track metrics around its net promoter score, gauging the way customers feel about their interactions with the company in order to continually improve. Ritesh Chaturbedi, chief operations officer, travels frequently to promote the initiative at Global Industrial offices around the country. At MSC, Baruch calls the data behind the business “the unsung hero” of the company. Examining the number and type of tools clients are using to complete a job is just one area where the MSC team is continually analyzing data to improve customer outcomes. 

Innovation is all around us, and you’ll read more of it in our coming MDM Market Movers features. Meanwhile, we provide you with a timely update on the ever-changing tariff situation and its impact on distributors, as well as an analysis of the potential benefits of switching from an S to C corporation. 

© 2019 Gale Media, Inc.

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