Graybar Takes Aim at Automation Market

April 12, 2002
Although Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis, has sold automation products for years, the company is gearing up for a major assault on the industrial automation

Although Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis, has sold automation products for years, the company is gearing up for a major assault on the industrial automation market.

In its upcoming April issue, Electrical Wholesaling magazine will explore Graybar's move into the automation arena. The 133-year-old distributor, with 9,100 employees, 275 locations and $4.8 billion in 2001 sales, is approaching the automation market from a unique angle. Graybar is blending its existing package of voice/data products with an enhanced automation product offering to leverage its focus on logistics and national accounts to provide automation customers with customized service and product packages.

The company's strategy to build major market share in the automation game has really taken root over the past three years. Since 1999, the St. Louis-headquartered distributor acquired two automation distributors, Frank A. Blesso Co., Hartford, Conn., in 1999 and Commonwealth Controls Corp., Richmond, Va., last year. The Commonwealth Controls acquisition exemplified one of the key drivers in Graybar's move in the automation market — its desire to provide industrial customers with a complete package of electrical, communications and automation products.

Dennis DeSousa, Graybar's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said the desire of industrial customers to give front-office managers information about and control of manufacturing processes on the factory floor is an important trend in the automation market. It plays to Graybar's strengths, he says, because of the company's focus on the communications cabling and networking products that carry this information.

“The resulting converging technologies have led to the need for a single-source provider of electrical, comm/data and automation solutions and products,” he said. “Graybar's single-source vision has become a reality because of the implementation of our national automation program with coast-to-coast and border-to-border product availability.”

Graybar has been a Square D/Schneider distributor for many years, and its relationship with that company is core to its strategy in the automation market. Getting authorization to sell the manufacturer's Modicon and Telemecanique automation lines along with Square D automation products nationally and earning Schneider's HTAD designation (High-Tech Authorized Distributor) showed the market that the company had made a serious investment in automation and that it had automation engineers and specialists on staff to work with customers.

Bruce Judkins, the company's vice president of electrical products, said the company is continually evaluating its offering and will be adding additional suppliers to its product offering so that it can provide integrated solutions to customers. The company has already added some new industrial automation manufacturers to its line card, including Phoenix Contact Inc., Harrisburg, Pa., and SST Connectivity Products (Woodhead Industries), Deerfield, Ill. Graybar has also used the relationships its has with other electrical vendors, such as Hoffman Engineering, Anoka, Minn., and Belden, Richmond, Ind., to support its automation offering.

Graybar is bundling these products with complementary services to differentiate itself from other automation distributors, said Rob Bezjak, the company's vice president of market development. “One of our core competencies is bundling services,” he said. “We can pull in the pieces that one of our salespeople might need. It may be integrated supply or electronic ordering. We want to listen to our customers and deliver the services that they need.”

Another element that will determine the company's future in the automation market will be its ability to field a trained sales force and to provide a high level of technical training to customers. To do this the company is developing “centers of competency” in key geographic areas that Graybar salespeople and customers can depend on for training and support.

In addition to the automation specialists that the company has in place, Graybar has trained salespeople in its other market segments to recognize automation sales opportunities. Bezjak said 150 of the company's salespeople for those products recently underwent training to apply their comm/data knowledge to potential sales opportunities on the factory floor.

When completed, two of the company's biggest internal initiatives in recent years will also support the industrial automation initiative: the construction of a network of regional distribution centers and the installation of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.