As the multibillion-dollar distributor of electrical and data-networking products and services experienced a slowdown in sales during the pandemic, it enhanced its ecommerce strategy and how it serves customers with digital technology, CEO Kathleen Mazzarella said at B2B Next 2020.

2020 got off to a strong start for Graybar Electric Co. Inc., following eight consecutive years of record revenue, a substantial increase in distribution center space, and a promising investment in robotic process automation to improve operations and its ability to serve customers, said Kathy Mazzarella, chairman, president and CEO, during a keynote presentation at B2B Next 2020.

For us, ecommerce isn’t just about transacting online. It really is about producing business interaction.
Kathy Mazzarella, chairman, president and CEO
Graybar

By February, when it became apparent that Graybar faced the challenge of operating as an essential business during a pandemic, the employee-owned business distributor of electrical and data networking products and services forged ahead with networking infrastructure to communicate with employees and customers, including many in the healthcare industry. It also launched a program to provide food and personal protective equipment to community organizations in employees’ neighborhoods, and it checked on its retired employees “to say, ‘Are you OK … do you need anything?’” Mazzarella said.

Enhancing Graybar’s ecommerce strategy

The company also pushed ahead with its ecommerce and other digital operations.

Graybar sells online at Graybar.com, where it has announced several upgrades including faster page-loading speed, improved visibility into contract pricing, and the ability of customers to manage multiple users and shipping addresses under a single account.

“As we’ve been through COVID, some of our projects have slowed down a little, but in the majority of cases we’re continuing with our original digital platform,” Mazzarella said. “One of the things we’re doing is enhancing our ecommerce strategy. For us, ecommerce isn’t just about transacting online. It really is about producing business interaction … could be a new technology, could be a new design service, could be a whole variety of things, in the supply chain between us and our customers, as well as back to our suppliers.”

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That enables Graybar to share information on product demand between its customers and suppliers, helping to provide products that meet the specifications customers need, Mazzarella said. For its customers in the construction industry, for example, Graybar helps them keep their job sites operating with the necessary equipment.

Bringing more value digitally to B2B customers

Graybar is continuing to develop its digital commerce platform to help customers, particularly in the construction industry, to process orders more quickly in ways that reduce their operating costs. “We’re doing a lot of digitization again and using our ecommerce platform to deliver that to our customers,” she said. “Now, yes, they can buy online, but for us it’s really more about the business process, making it easy for them … to do business to do business with us whenever they want to, how they want to.”

This also enables Graybar to better compete against Amazon Business and other online marketplaces by providing customized products and services, she added.

Graybar is also moving ahead with such digital technologies as robotic process automation, which it is deploying in dozens of projects including contract management to automate some basic manual tasks. It’s also looking at how RPA can help operate its new CRM system and increase the adoption of it by its salespeople.

“Graybar has put a big focus on improving productivity internally around the whole digitization of the business,” Mazzarella said.

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