Economic indicators for plant and maintenance managers

The Grainger Customer Show is a beacon of promising times ahead, as the United States and the world emerge from global recession and hope oil prices stop climbing, or at least that military clashes in Libya come to an end so we can stop hearing about why $150/barrel would be bad and $200/barrel would be catastrophic.

Grainger ( brought in a record number of attendees at its annual event in Orlando. More than 4,000 invited customers, 2,000 manufacturers, and 3,000 Grainger employees gathered at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort & Convention Center for some thought-provoking announcements. CEO Jim Ryan explained how Grainger’s customers are asking for more consolidation, so they have fewer suppliers to manage in their quest of standardization of as many maintenance products as possible. And Grainger’s inventory management services, specifically KeepStock (, has its merits for managing MRO inventory, especially in plants where lean principles are in effect. Lowering inventory costs obviously has its advantages. And the economic benefits of stocking fewer parts in greater numbers have gotten the attention of procurement managers and plant managers alike.

However, some products are more standardizable than others. Eric Busch, solutions development manager at Grainger, shared stories of attempts at standardization that resulted in unexpected findings, such as the multiple-site manufacturer that wanted to standardize its safety glasses but discovered that the number of diverse ethnic head shapes in the organization only allowed it to eliminate a few of the numerous safety glasses it used.

Grainger’s Online SafetyManager ( is one of the newer products and services the distributor has developed to better leverage its expansive team of field reps. The tool is designed to help businesses create and self-manage their safety programs to maintain regulatory compliance, reduce the risk of fines, improve facility safety, reduce accident and injury rates, and decrease operating costs such as worker compensation, litigation and lost productivity.

Building on its core competency of inventory management, Ryan explained that adding new services and dramatically increasing the number of products it offers are at the forefront of Grainger’s strategy to continue growing its business, which tallied $7.2 billion in 2010.

And products were abundant in the exhibit hall. As if the presentations and networking sessions weren’t popular enough, the event’s trade show was chock full of more than 450 exhibitors demonstrating their wares to aisles thick with willing plant and maintenance managers who seem eager to do their part to push along the economic recovery.

As leading economic indicators go. the Grainger Customer Show seems as credible and encouraging as any.