Grainger: What We’ve Learned In 85 Years

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After 85 Years Grainger Says the Lessons Remain the Same: A Commitment to Exceptional Customer Service Drives Success

Grainger looks back at 2012, the year that marked the company’s 85th anniversary, and finds that lessons learned from the past related to customer service continue to represent trends of today and beyond.

William W. Grainger founded Grainger in 1927 originally as an electric motor distributor with the goal to provide quick and easy access to the motors local businesses needed. The Motorbook, as the catalog was originally called, was established during this time and is the basis for today's Grainger catalog, which features more than 4,000 pages. During the last 85 years, Grainger's product line has expanded from motors to include more than one million diverse products and repair parts. The Grainger branch network has also grown steadily over the years, and today features more than 700 branches, with expanding global operations.

Grainger reflects on its history and outlines key lessons from the past that have stood the test of time:

  • Help your customers keep you in their back pocket… figuratively and literally. To increase productivity and save customers time, the original Grainger Motorbook was designed to fit in a pocket so products could be easily referred to without having to leave the job site. Productivity through mobility remains relevant today. In 2012, Grainger put the Grainger catalog back into the customer’s pocket introducing both its mobile site and first mobile application, which saw significant adoption among its customers. With mobile device adoption anticipated to grow significantly in 2013, Grainger continues to focus on how to be as mobile as its diverse set of customers.

  • Know your customer’s business. Grainger set itself apart in 1927 by going directly to businesses to understand their operations and unique needs. Today, Grainger continues to spend time with customers in their place of work to understand their needs and identify custom solutions opposed to taking a one size fits all approach. By embedding itself in the customer mindset, Grainger is a trusted partner to more than two million customers globally today.

  • Remember that location is everything. In 1927, Bill Grainger drove to customer sites with motors filling his car knowing that to serve the customer best, he needed to be where they were. Today, Grainger stays close to its customers by offering a multi-channel customer service model that includes branches, phone, online and in-person service options. In addition, Grainger’s Distribution Network continues to expand, and in 2012, it introduced new, industry-leading Distribution Centers in Patterson, Calif. and Minooka, Ill., both of which bring products closer and faster to customers in those surrounding markets.

  • Think global, but remain local. Originally established as a small business in Chicago serving local customers, Grainger has kept its local company focus while expanding its footprint internationally.  Today, Grainger’s global presence gives its customers more access to competitive products and services.  Grainger is active in all the communities it serves, from philanthropic commitments to personal service at its branches.

  • Understand and promote the skilled trades. Bill Grainger served customers with pride knowing that they were establishing the industrial infrastructure that we would eventually be the foundation of today’s modern world. Today, professionals in the skilled trades continue to keep the world up and running. However, over the past few decades, the pool of professionals entering skilled labor-oriented industries is dwindling and the shortfall in the labor market may create an unbridgeable gap as older generations of skilled trade workers retire. Grainger remains committed to helping stem the growing shortage of skilled workers through the Grainger Tools for Tomorrow® scholarship program and other skilled trade awareness initiatives.


W.W. Grainger, Inc. with 2011 sales of $8.1 billion is a leading broad line supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products, with expanding global operations. For more information, visit

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