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Grainger's Search for Talent Starts with Creating It

When Grainger acquired Safety Solutions at the end of 2013, a core reason was to acquire its "shoemobile" program. The service, which brings a mobile safety shoe store to large customer sites, had great opportunity for expansion – but also had a unique talent challenge. Where can you find salespeople with commercial driver's license certification?

"It's a big truck. You need someone certified to drive a big truck," said Parris Devine, senior director of services for Grainger, at the Grainger Show in Orlando, FL, earlier this month. "And if you've met many truckers, you know that most of them don't want to be salespeople. They just want to drive and be left alone."

At the same time, most salespeople haven't had a need to pay for the commercial driver's license training and certification. It's not a common skill-set combination, Devine said.

The answer was to find salespeople willing to invest the time – Grainger would pay the fees – in earning a CDL to drive the shoemobile trucks. "It was easier to go that direction because most of our routes are drive out an hour in the morning and drive back home at night," Devine said. "This isn't the long-haul, over-the-road trucking" even though it requires the same certification.

Since the end of 2015, Grainger has also downsized its U.S. branch network from 420 to 250. The realignment – a result of changing customer behavior that includes less reliance on walk-up counters, according to CEO D.G. Macpherson – left a lot of salespeople looking for new opportunities, as well.

At the same time, the shoemobile footprint has expanded from a regional service to nearly nationwide. "We've gone coast-to-coast, serving all the major markets," Devine said. Displaced salespeople from the branch realignment were approached to be a part of that expansion.

About half of the new drivers/salespeople hired to support the expansion came from those closed branches, Devine said. They already had knowledge of Grainger's products and culture; they just needed the additional training and certification to drive the trucks.

Grainger has plans to grow the shoemobile fleet even further – and to continue investing in creating the skill sets needed for continued success with the program.

"It's a need of ours that we could help fix for ourselves," Devine said.

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