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Specialists vs. Broadline: Is There Room for Both?

As the big get bigger, and more distributors cross traditional product category lines, is there room for growth as a specialist in today’s MRO market?

“All of us have to make a decision about how to play in this industry long-term,” said Jim Ryan, CEO of $9.4 billion MRO distributor Grainger, during a media roundtable at the 2014 Grainger Show in Orlando this week.

As customers consolidate their suppliers, scale will help Grainger compete. But, he says, “there’s always going to be room for both” specialists and broadline distributors.

The caveat: Distributors that choose to be specialists must remain focused, Ryan says. Those are the distributors that will retain a place in the market. Distributors that are less strategic will be at risk.

Grainger continues to broaden its reach in the market, however, growing organically and through acquisition and expanding its product and service selection across a wide swath of product areas.

And the distributor is selectively choosing to grow its expertise and services in areas such as safety where opportunity exists across its entire customer base.

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