Acklands-Grainger offers “The Works” to customers and suppliers

MRO expo celebrates 125-year anniversary with a focus on productivity, sustainability and safety.

Industrial MRO customers taking in “The Works.” Photo: Bill Roebuck, MRO Magazine

TORONTO — Acklands-Grainger has come a long way since its founding in Winnipeg by Dudley Ackland in 1889 when the manufacturer supplied wooden products to the marketplace. Today it’s celebrating 125 years of operations as Canada’s largest distributor of industrial products, selling $1 billion worth in 2012 and holding 8% of a $14 billion MRO market.

That history was celebrated at the company’s annual “The Works” product expo focusing on maintenance, repair, operations (MRO) and safety in Toronto Jan. 15 and 16. The event focused on three key themes: productivity, sustainability and safety, and the company’s expansion plans.

“It doesn’t matter where you go in Canada, productivity is a big issue, companies need to do more with less, find more time and save costs,” said Eric Nowlin, president of Acklands-Grainger, during an executive panel with the media.

He noted some key investments the company is making to help manufacturers and other sectors become more productive, including the building and expansion of distribution centres in key regions. Although the amount of the current investments was not revealed, the company expects to spend more than $100 million over the next three years.

Among the new centres is a 550,000 square-foot, energy-efficient facility in Caledon, Ont. (near Toronto) that can expand to 600,000 square-feet. It raises the number of available SKUs from 60,000 to 300,000. Nowlin said the shell is up and work is now underway on the inside.

The Fort McMurray, Alta. operation, a key market for Acklands-Granger, is being expanded from 40,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet and will increase its SKUs from 15,000 to 80,000. And a new, one million square-foot facility going up in Edmonton by 2016 will expand currently available SKUs from 80,000 to 400,000.

With thousands of unique MRO items in the marketplace and a host of companies that provide them, Acklands-Grainger is also emphasizing supplier consolidation. A major customer involved in the transportation sector and highlighted in a video presentation has reduced its MRO supplier base from several thousand to just Acklands-Grainger. But Nowlin also referenced a smaller customer who had switched from 20 suppliers for the simplicity of the procurement process and the time saved by clicking through an order on a computer and having it delivered by the next day.

The company is building out its e-commerce capability, and Sandro Verrelli, vice-president of strategic growth, said it would play a bigger role over the next 10 years.

Not that some of the older school methods will be discarded. Acklands-Grainger’s 3,700-page print catalogue with some 140,000 products listed, will continue to compliment any digital ordering technologies. The 4.5-kilogram publication with a 200,000-copy run is still popular among companies, especially those lacking the technology to effectively source digitally.

Verrelli said there will also be a push into new areas, (such as facilities that aren’t necessarily industrial, like the Toronto Congress Centre, where The Works was hosted).

“As long as we stay true to our purpose, which is strip complexity and cost out of business, make it a little easier for customers to get the job done and keep people safe on the job, then there’s all kinds of creative latitude.”

And there will be more products in the years ahead. The distributor currently offers 350,000 but Nowlin said there would be more than 600,000 over the next five years.

The Works attracted 3,000 customers and suppliers who attended educational sessions and toured a 9,000 square-foot ACME factory pavilion featuring 500 products that showcased Acklands-Grainger’s e-commerce and inventory management systems.