MRO products distribution giant Grainger reported its Q1 earnings results on April 30, showing that major growth in the company’s Endless Assortment business helped power overall organic daily sales growth of 5.9 percent year-over-year.
In the US, that Endless Assortment segment is operated by Zoro, a Grainger subsidiary that ID executive editor Anna Wells visited in March 2020 right as the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding. Since then, Zoro was tasked with scaling up Grainger’s one-stop-shop e-commerce offering of PPE products throughout the pandemic, which led to major growth in Zoro’s daily sales, gross margin and operating margin.
In this episode, I chat with Zoro president Kevin Weadick about what the past year-plus has been like for the Grainger subsidiary and how it’s managed so much growth in a short span. Weadick has led Zoro since June of 2017.
Beyond the Episode
Along with the material Weadick and I covered about Zoro's growth and PPE inventory management, I also asked him about how the company has handled remote working during the pandemic and what its timeline is like for a return to 'normal'. Weadick told me Zoro already had some experience with remote work since it has more than one office, with some employees working in downtown Chicago, some in suburban Chicago and some in Janesville, WI — all collaborating via technology for virtual meetings and other functions. Weadick said that pre-pandemic, about 40 percent of Zoro's customer service organization was working from home full-time. Once the pandemic hit last March, the company then just had to procure the equipment needed to enable the remainder of its customer service team and other office staff to work remotely.
Entering last summer, Zoro was able to bring some employees back for conferencing and in-person collaboration in a socially-distant setting, and when pandemic conditions worsened in the fall, Zoro went full remote again. Weadick said that as of early May, Zoro has been able to begin bringing some of its staff back into its offices.
Weadick said Zoro anticipates a new normal going forward. "Things will look different in the future. We'll probably have some people work from home more frequently than they have in the past. We may have more customer service members work remotely. But we do value collaboration and people being face-to-face and together. When we feel we can safely do that, we'll continue to work toward bringing people back."
In mid-April, Zoro re-opened its suburban Chicago office to a small set of staff and is seeing how that goes before bringing more in. But even as pandemic conditions figure to keep improving, Weadick said the working model will probably be more of a hybrid going forward.