Global Industrial’s R3 Program Preps Customers for Post-COVID-19 Work - Modern Distribution Management

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Global Industrial’s R3 Program Preps Customers for Post-COVID-19 Work

Beginning in late April, Global Industrial started to pack an R3 Program Guide in with all shipped orders.

The company has more than 1.7 million products in the commercial and industrial space, including medical and healthcare. Beginning in late April, Global Industrial started to pack an R3 Program Guide in with all shipped orders. It is also available at 

Industrial and MRO distributor Global Industrial recently launched its R3 Program to assist customers with safely re-opening business operations.

Coined to represent the actions, “restore the facility, return to work and rebound the business,” R3 provides room-by-room best practices for new cleaning and sanitizing requirements, indoor and outdoor maintenance, social distancing aids such as signage and separators, and how to reconfigure floor plans for social distancing.

MDM spoke with Barry Litwin, CEO of Systemax, Global Industrial’s parent company, about the concept behind the program, how the distributor is anticipating customer needs in a post-COVID-19 work environment and the ways in which R3 is strengthening Global’s integrated marketing capabilities.

MDM: Tell us the story behind the R3 program.

Litwin: COVID-19 has impacted everything we do and industrial distributors are all figuring out how they’re going to navigate the market and connect with customers. As an essential distributor there’s a big portion of our assortment that is positioned really well for customers that are going to be coming back to work.

We felt one of the best ways we can help them is to reposition our assortment and provide the content they need and help them understand how to return and open up their business.

We think the long-term impact for most companies: manufacturers, distributors, hospitality, retail, everyone right now, is figuring out, ‘How do I ready my environment to deal with this new normal?’

The whole concept of R3 – Restore, Return, Rebound – is it takes a phased approach. First, you have to restore your environment, then you have to bring your associates back, or return, and then the company has to rebound — both its sales and its service.

We believe we could really capture the hearts and minds of our customers by giving them a path and a plan, while providing quickly access to the products they need to support their return.

R3 is a multichannel initiative, through our sales organization, our marketing organization, and online platform. It has been a comprehensive rollout for us. Our customers are really responding to it and coming to us and asking questions about, ‘What are you guys advising we do when we come back?’

We are empowering our subject-matter experts and account managers to help engage customers on R3. This is creating a dialogue around what products customers need now and are going to need going forward. R3 provided a message that will transcend the full year and into 2021 and highlights the value we bring to the market.


MDM: Did R3 start because you all were brainstorming what to do to help? Did you hear from customers directly asking for assistance? How did it get off the ground?

Litwin: We started thinking about how we could help our customers before they started asking us. We asked, what are customers going to have to deal with?

Global has been around for a long time and we’ve been a huge leader in supporting warehouse and facility environments. We’ve grown our assortment to 1.7 million products, so we’re supporting them both in the front office and the back office.

We started planning without customer input and then we surveyed the market as R3 started coming together. This validated the type of support they’re going to need and we have continued to modify and adjust the program along the way.

MDM: The R3 website clearly breaks down different physical areas of a business and offers correlating products. Is this what you mean when you say R3 presents the opportunity to reposition assortment?

Litwin: When you have a large assortment, it can be hard for a customer to know where to focus. The question that we posed was, how do we focus our assortment and focus the value we bring around what we know are urgent issues for our customers?

It used to be that ‘high touch’ was normal — shaking hands, pressing buttons and connecting with things. We said, the world is going to go touch free. So how does that align with our products? It is touch-free faucets and flush valves, and automatic paper dispensers, things like that are going to be important.

How are you going to protect yourself? We all know, it’s pandemic-related products — mask, gloves, face shields, face protection. Facility cleaning is something we all take for granted. But now, you’re talking about an accelerated cleaning cycle. That impacts not just cleaning supplies but the equipment and carts that support the janitorial staff.

We have all those things, and adjusted positioning within the offering.

We also looked at our own environment and if everybody’s moving to work at home — we think that’s going to have more importance for our customers. A lot of our products can be used both in office and in home. We’ve got home office furniture, wastebaskets, a lot of the basics when it comes to supplies.

Then we looked at our own office space; the whole notion of open floor plans was going to change. This is an area where we really serve the market well and saw a big opportunity.

The whole world went away from cubicles into an open office environment, but we actually may go back to cubicles. We asked ourselves, what products do we have that could help the customer through this transition? We have a strong offering of partitions and around crowd control, and plexiglass panels to create separation. We do a lot in terms of mobile whiteboards and other items that can create separation within the current office environment. Companies can buy those products today as they retrofit their environment and get back to work.

We looked at lots of different areas of our assortment. We thought about, how do we reposition these items to support that R3 restore, return, rebound phasing? That’s really how we came up with it.

R3 changed the sales dialogue with our customers. A lot of customers have raised their hand, saying, ‘I’m now responsible for putting together the return to work plan.’ Great. We have a model for you. We have a template. Let’s start talking about the different phases of your building and what needs to be figured out. We put that whole assortment together for the customer.

It has been a classic example of recognizing the situation that your customers are in and making it easy for them to tie back to what you offer. This shows your value by matching up your products with the situation that they’re walking into.

MDM: Have you found that your sales teams are working more collaboratively with marketing and other departments to come together like this and make this happen?

Litwin: We’ve invested in our marketing resources over the years and recently hired a new chief marketing officer, Klaus Werner. With that investment has come an improvement in the coordination between marketing and sales.

I think R3 is a great example because the same concept that we’ve launched to customers has converted to a selling and marketing process within the company.

The whole integrated marketing process, the way in which R3 has been launched to market, it includes all the direct marketing we do and social media marketing. It’s digitally driven, which touches the core of our company.

Our sales organization has gone through R3 proposition training and built a selling model to be able to start these conversations with customers and then utilize a room by room approach to asking questions where customers have needs.

We’ll give content around lobbies and common areas. We discuss the needs for outdoor grounds. We look at break rooms, and bathrooms. It’s very comprehensive. Some customers don’t have a plan for these areas. Others are very formalized. They’ve already put committees together and they’re looking for suppliers who can meet those needs across every function.

R3 enables us to talk to customers about what is the right solution and then to methodically walk through their departments and identify where there’s gaps and where they need help. Then we fill that need.

MDM: How is that customer communication going? Are you having any issues actually reaching them?

Litwin: Everyone has adapted to the current environment and is accessible. We are definitely communicating with customers through video conferencing more often today. That said, we have always been an e-commerce-centric company and the limitations of today’s environment play to that strength.

We’re remote as a company right now and fully functional. Communications with customers have remained strong.

MDM: Looking ahead at changing demands, how are you strategizing on the supplier side?

Litwin: I think, like most large distributors today, you’re partnering up with your best suppliers. You’re trying to project and forecast demand and you’re trying to secure inventory and predictability around backorder shipments. We’ve been in business for a long time. We’ve got great relationships out there and our suppliers have been partnering very closely with us.

Many of our suppliers have seen R3. They’ve been very impressed with it and they’re asking us how they can get more involved. Everyone’s looking for a way to drive customer engagement and their business.

I think the supplier side has been very cooperative during this period. We think R3 is innovative but also necessary. I imagine there’s going to be more of this type of thinking. We believe this is the conversation to be had and that’s why we launched R3.

MDM: What kind of feedback have you been getting since the launch?

Litwin: We’ve been really pleased with the results. I think it’s a very relevant conversation that customers are open to having. It’s very timely because they need the help. A lot of industrial buyers are being asked by their management teams to go ahead and figure out how we’re going to harden the environment.

They’re looking for a partner that understands that need and is willing to support them. That’s where I think R3 is valuable because it says to our buyers and our customers that, ‘Global really understands our needs right now and they’re willing to spend time with us to help us fill out our supply plan and reserve the inventory needed to get us into a position where we can be successful.’

I think our sales organization likes having a mission and a focus to be able to sell and reach customers. This is not a traditional supply reorder transactional approach. We’re about being able to bring the right solution to the table and to help our buyers in a different way. I think that is creating differentiation for Global Industrial.

MDM: Is it helping to give you some internal direction about where 2020 might end up?

Litwin: Providing future projections and guidance is not something we participate in, but I will tell you that it is important to have a mission and a plan and a selling philosophy in today’s very uncertain environment.

We know that we can’t just go to market the same way we always have. That’s why our organization is carrying R3 out to the market. It places us in a position to engage in a conversation in a way where buyers would be responsive. It allows us to address the No. 1 issue our customers face, how are they going to ready their environment. We believe that positions us for improved performance long-term.

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