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Product Mix & Growth for MSC Industrial

MSC Industrial Direct's latest Safety Products Catalog launch is part of its strategy to further penetrate existing customer accounts, according to Erik Gershwind, MSC's senior vice president of product management, marketing and strategy.

The interest in safety products has been building in our customer base for the past few years,"Gershwind said. "We definitely saw a demarcation point after 9/11. Our customer base has a heightened sense of awareness of keeping the workplace safe and protecting the well-being of their employees."

Gershwind said that penetration of existing accounts was a key growth strategy for the industrial distributor, based in Melville, NY. The company is also working to sell more MRO and safety products to customers acquired when it bought J&L ...

MSC Industrial Direct’s latest Safety Products Catalog launch is part of its strategy to further penetrate existing customer accounts, according to Erik Gershwind, MSC’s senior vice president of product management, marketing and strategy.

The interest in safety products has been building in our customer base for the past few years,”Gershwind said. “We definitely saw a demarcation point after 9/11. Our customer base has a heightened sense of awareness of keeping the workplace safe and protecting the well-being of their employees.”

Gershwind said that penetration of existing accounts was a key growth strategy for the industrial distributor, based in Melville, NY. The company is also working to sell more MRO and safety products to customers acquired when it bought J&L Industrial Supply in 2006. The distributor also plans to continue growing its business into new customer and product segments, he said.

“Our customers are dealing with many suppliers, so there continues to be market share opportunities in existing accounts,”he said. “It’s one of the most exciting opportunities we see. The safety initiative is one example of that.”MSC aims to go deeper inside an organization, tapping the end-user, the purchasing director and the safety director or champion whose responsibility is safety at the facility.
 
Safety Product Catalog
MSC’s newest safety products catalog features 40,000 products, a 50-percent increase in SKUs since the company’s first safety catalog released in 2005. The distributor broke out a separate safety products catalog in 2005 in response to customer demand.

A portion of the SKU increase was from new products, Gershwind said. “A lot of the additions were taken from elsewhere in our offerings to make it an easier shopping experience for our safety buyers.”Customers are asking not only for safety products but also safety-related products, such as hand soap, in the same place, he said.

Customers are also “raising the bar”on expectations of their suppliers, he said. “Distributors need to do more than sell products. They need to help customers proactively address problems in the business.”For example, MSC created a “wellness kit”in response to customer demand for product that would help to prevent illness, and in turn cut down on employee absences due to sickness.

A kit may include products such as hand sanitizer or soap and safety masks with instructions on when to use the product provided and how to avoid getting sick. The focus there is on prevention and being proactive, rather than reactive.
 
Changing Demographics
MSC is also busy responding to other trends.

As more women enter a traditionally male work environment, Gershwind said MSC has had to shift its product mix. The most apparent change is in the breadth of sizes the distributor offers for Personal Protective Equipment, including smaller sizes of gloves, shoes and goggles.

In addition, more workers -male and female -want more comfortable and stylish equipment. “Style has become a lot more important,”he said. Gershwind said safety directors ask for the improvement in style and comfort because it increases the likelihood of compliance on the floor.

“We probably offer more glasses, for example, than you would think exist,”he said. “It’s all based on personal preference. Some of the new glasses feel like you’re just wearing a comfortable pair of sunglasses.”
 
Green Products
MSC will soon launch a comprehensive green initiative. The initiative has a few key components, including providing a section on the Web site where customers can click an environmentally-friendly tab and see green products in seven categories. Customers are demanding more energy-efficient products, Gershwind said. But they are also demanding eco-friendly cleaning products. “The demand is high enough that another component of our plan is the introduction of a (private-label) environmentally-friendly cleaning line called Nature’s Solution.

“… We set the bar that we want the product to be as good or better than products that aren’t considered green, and we want them to be cost-competitive.”
 
Keeping Service Levels High
MSC is aware of the importance of training its sales people and other employees as it continues to add to its product mix.
 
“It’s something we think about all the time,”Gershwind said. “We have a plan for it.” The distributor is expanding its sales organization, and is careful about who it hires, he said. “We have an extensive training program that is a core part of our organization.”

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