Grainger opens store without a building
By Virginia Grantiervgrantier@thedickinsonpress.com When Grainger -- an international supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products -- sets up an office in a trailer, it's usually in times of a natural disaster, like a hurricane, said Br...
By Virginia Grantier
When Grainger - an international supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products - sets up an office in a trailer, it’s usually in times of a natural disaster, like a hurricane, said Brett Ruhl Wednesday, a Grainger market manager.
But the Bakken, apparently, is like a hurricane of unending needs.
Grainger, which has had service and sales people in the Dickinson area for more than a year, but no office here - decided it needed to provide that to customers.
So Grainger set up shop in Dickinson in quick fashion - in an office trailer along with a storage shed next to the Solar Bee facility north of Dickinson. Opening day was July 14.
“(Grainger did this) knowing the need up here,” Ruhl said.
The temporary facility is at 3221 State Highway 22, about 2½ miles north of the Walmart Supercenter.
It’s easy to see, Ruhl said. Much of the trailer is blanketed in a 50-foot-long Grainger sign.
Construction of Grainger’s permanent 5,000-square-foot facility will begin soon with a completion date in December, said Ruhl, who currently works out of the trailer and is Grainger’s market manager for the Dickinson area.
In addition to a presence in Dickinson, the company, headquartered in Illinois, has two other branches in North Dakota - one in Fargo, which opened in 1978, and another in Williston, which opened in 2013. Nationally, there are 390 branches.
Currently, Grainger offers about 1.2 million different products from 4,800 manufacturers and lists on its website some of the products that are currently top-sellers - things like utility blades, 800-foot rolls of paper towel, jumbo toilet paper, sump pumps, brake parts cleaner, electrical tape, ceiling tiles, pipe wrenches and insect repellent.
But here in oil country, Ruhl notices major sales in one area in particular - safety gear. Items such as hard hats and safety vests.
Ruhl said some of the benefits of having the local branch is that customers who don’t have a physical address can now order and have items shipped to Grainger’s Dickinson location. Returns can also be taken care of through the new facility.
But Ruhl said Grainger isn’t in the Dickinson market to just “sell someone a widget” - that it’s much more than that.
The company’s increased presence in Dickinson is meant to strengthen partnerships with its customers and develop new ones. He said Grainger’s goal is to help partners’ companies grow faster and more efficiently. Grainger does that through helping companies reduce overall costs and create safer work environments, he said.
And so besides providing products, Grainger provides services such as inventory control.
Time is precious in the Bakken for busy companies who can struggle to adequately stock and maintain its inventory of needed equipment, Ruhl said, so Grainger’s inventory managers can come in and handle that. After learning what a customers wants on the shelves, and the amount, Grainger will make sure the shelves stay stocked so the company can put its energy elsewhere.
Ruhl, 29, who grew up in a town of about 700 in Exeter, Neb., started with Grainger 10 years ago and got his bachelor’s degree in business management at night. He said he has had seven positions at Grainger, the last being a management position in Kansas City, Mo., which is the location of one of Grainger’s 18 major U.S. distribution centers.
He said Grainger is “one of those companies that truly puts its employees first.” Ruhl said employee development is at the top of its list of priorities.
William W. (Bill) Grainger founded the company in Chicago in 1927, according to Grainger’s website. At that time, the focus was wholesale electric motor sales and a distribution business.
Grainger became a public company in 1967. Its common stock is listed on the New York and Chicago Stock Exchanges.
Today, there are more than 700 Grainger branches, 23,700 employees, team members as Grainger prefers they’re called, and the company had $9.4 million in sales in 2013.
Ruhl, an avid hunter who sometimes daydreams of having his own cable hunting program one day, said he was excited about coming to the area because of the great hunting opportunities. But it turns out there are more benefits than that.
After experiencing life in urban Kansas City after many years of life in little Exeter, Neb., he is glad for more than just the hunting.
He’s experiencing that “small-town feel,” again, he said. With him in Dickinson is his wife, Ali, and their two daughters, ages 2½ and 3 months.
“I actually love Dickinson,” Ruhl said.
Grantier is a reporter for The Dickinson Press. Contact her at 701-225-8111.