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Supplier Diversity

Diversity is a high priority in the W.W. Grainger catalog

Among Grainger’s hundreds of thousands of items in this well-known business-to-business catalog, WBE Master Manufacturing has many important entries


Grainger’s Nancy Conner: “Our customers look for diversity in product sourcing.”'Supplier diversity continues to be a high priority here at W.W. Grainger,” says Nancy Conner, manager of supplier diversity. “The state of our program continues to be important to our customers, who are looking for diversity in product sourcing.

“Diverse suppliers are critical to our success, too. We are the industry leader in providing an inclusive supply chain for our customers.”

W.W. Grainger (Lake Forest, IL) is a leading business-to-business distributor of a broad line of facility maintenance supplies from A/C and abrasives to zappers and zip screws, with many thousands of categories in between. The company has 600 branches, eighteen distribution centers, and 2007 sales of some $6.4 billion.

In Grainger’s online as well as its yearly paper catalogs, all Iris Rubinfield, Master Manufacturing: “Our goal is to be up at the top.”products from diverse suppliers are marked with a special logo for ease of selection.

It started in 1995
It wasn’t always so, but it has been for more than ten years. Grainger’s supplier diversity program “started officially in 1999 with a GSA contract,” Conner explains, “but actually we’d begun to look at diversity within our catalog as far back as 1995.”

“We’re constantly seeking more diverse manufacturers for the catalog. We have continuous-improvement goals for our diversity spending, and right now we are 33 percent ahead of last year.” It has, in fact, been a steady upward progress.

The monthly scorecard
An impressive part of the Grainger program is its informal mentoring of suppliers. “We are really proud of the way we coach and develop our suppliers as we do business together,” says Conner. “Our monthly scorecard is an important part of that. It rates performance in areas like on-time delivery, order accuracy and damages; all the key elements, and we give our suppliers, everybody in the catalog, feedback on all their scores.”

Master Manufacturing comes up trumps
Many of Grainger’s trusted catalog entries are from Master Manufacturing/Master Caster (Cleveland, OH). Master Manufacturing president Iris Rubinfield comments that the scorecard is “an excellent tool. As a manufacturer our goal is to be right up at the top, and so far we’re maintaining a 98 percent-plus score in all our categories.

“It sets a goal for my people,” she explains. “We work very hard, we do not backorder, we do not ship late. We’ve been in business more than fifty-seven years, and once we got going and had these kind of programs, I can count on one hand the few times some crisis kept us from meeting our goals.”

Master Manufacturing/Master Caster started out supplying replacement casters (wheel sets) for office chairs. It has expanded into a multitude of solutions to office requirements, including heavy-duty doorstops, sliders for moving furniture and equipment, wire organizers and many other items.

“Grainger has given us the opportunity to expand our product line,” Rubinfield says. “We make a lot of products. We boosted our problem-solving products, and it has helped us and I am sure is helping them.

“Our business with Grainger is growing,” she adds. “They started years ago with a small catalog just for diversity and then melded us into their regular catalog.”

Master Manufacturing is a member of WBENC, NMSDC and the Chicago Group Development Council, among others. President Rubinfield is a member of the National Association of Female Executives, the American Business Women’s Association, the National Association of Women Business Owners and Women Impacting Public Policy.

More mentoring
Suppose a supplier does not come out with the great scorecard Master Manufacturing does, and suppose it happens more than once. “We focus in on that when we have our business reviews,” Conner explains. “If a supplier is struggling in a certain area, we try to provide a knowledgeable resource to help with the business problem.”

The scorecard, Conner stresses, “is given to every supplier in the Grainger catalog. We have small suppliers and we have some very large national brands, and everyone is measured on the same scorecard. Our diverse suppliers are really great; sometimes they’ll get higher scores than some of the national brands. They are here in our catalog because they have earned the business.”

“Our communication system with Nancy is exceptional,” Rubinfield adds. “Sure, I am recognized as a diverse supplier elsewhere, but nowhere else do I get so much contact and help. Grainger is tops!”

Made in Cleveland
Master Manufacturing, Rubinfield explains, makes most of its products at its Cleveland works. “We make casters and floor protection products for every type of floor surface; we try to make people safe in their jobs and we design our products to do that.

“We have a staff of our own engineers and designers and our own die-making facility, but we go to outside sources if we need to. Technology has played a great role in our company with the automation of manufacturing. We have only thirty people, but a large network to get things done. Everyone wears more than one hat.”

Rubinfield, who has a BFA from Carnegie-Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA), started her company with her husband. “When he died in 1979 I was able to continue since I’d been right here with him all along and we had good people here. Some of my help has been with me as long as thirty years now.”

Starting with Grainger
Master Manufacturing began doing business with Grainger about 1999. They met, as so many WBEs and their sponsors have, at the Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference, hosted by the Women’s Business Development Center of Chicago. That’s the same organization that gave Nancy Conner its corporate support award in September 2008.

“We had a booth at that show and Grainger was there,” Rubinfield remembers. “I introduced myself, asked one of their people over and showed our stuff. The rep from Grainger was most kind. After the show we got a call and went to their Lake Forest HQ for more discussion, and that was the beginning.”

Growing together
Master Manufacturing and Grainger are growing together, Rubinfield says happily. “Last year they had a supplier show for their representatives. This year they did a magnificent expansion of that show. It was one of the busiest trade shows I’ve ever been to. They are exposing the products to their customers for one-stop shopping, and we’ve been invited to their five-day national sales meeting in January.”

“It’s all about getting the job done,” Conner notes. “Our suppliers are critical to our success. The suppliers whose products we are selling and putting our name behind represent us to
the world.

“The supplier diversity model is a win/win, letting us concentrate on what we do best: logistics and distribution of their products. It’s good for everyone!”

Sources
Both the Chicago Women’s Development Council and the national WBENC are important sources of new suppliers for Grainger. “We network with WBENC and work with them on a national basis as well as with the local chapter in Chicago, our headquarters city. They, together with the NMSDC, are our main external organizations.

“We are constantly recruiting suppliers,” she adds. “I hand out my business card wherever
I go, and anyone who wants to become a Grainger supplier can get a lot of information on
our website.”

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