CEO Barry Litwin breaks down Global Industrial’s strategy to ‘overinvest’ in improving its desktop and mobile ecommerce for B2B customers. The top priority: providing customers with the digital tools to manage and grow their business. Pictured: Floor-care machines Global Industrial sells in an exclusive arrangement with Caterpillar Inc.

When Barry Litwin became CEO of Global Industrial Co. in 2019, the plan was to accelerate digital growth within a fragmented industry and compete more effectively with the top companies in the industry. “We needed to develop a long-term strategy that would allow us to compete with the Amazons of the world,” he says.

We survey our customers from the time they visit our website to look for an item to the time they’ve checked out.
Barry Litwin, CEO
Global Industrial Co.
BarryLitwin-GlobalIndustrialCompany - Aug2021 Photo Head Shot

Barry Litwin, CEO, Global Industrial Co.

“When you think about changes occurring with customers today—particularly B2B buyers, which have a complex selling strategy—most customers are adopting online ordering,” says Litwin.

Global Industrial’s digital-focused strategy, meanwhile, is making strong gains. The distributor of industrial and office supplies crossed the billion-dollar annual sales mark in 2020 with total sales of $1.03 billion. The company offers 1.7 million products used in such areas as material handling, storage, and facility maintenance that companies use to operate their offices, warehouses, and distribution centers. It makes available more than one million branded and private-label products through its ecommerce channel, where it processes more than half of its customer orders. And it is taking several steps to generate new business for the long term.

Global Industrial primarily sells direct to business buyers through its website, mobile app, and sales team. “Between the web, inbound sales, and our outbound one-to-one team, we’re really a multichannel business anchored by strong customer service operations as well,” says Litwin.

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Understanding user behavior and how customers search for products led to an improved search engine designed to show personalized results. When customers search for products, GlobalIndustrial.com’s search engine can anticipate and suggest SKU numbers to adjacent items that they might be interested in purchasing. The company is also investing in enhancements and updates on the back end of its website as well as to the user experience/user interface look and feel of its ecommerce site.

“We know that many customers use a search engine like Google,” Litwin says. Global Industrial want users to be able to search on its site and find what they need in the same way, he adds.

The distributor plans to introduce more personalized content within its website’s search results. “The more you search for say, how to sanitize your environment, we can leverage that into a personalized experience,” Litwin says.

Transforming into a catch-all resource for customers

Litwin says Global Industrial intends to make the user experience easy from the initial stages where a customer is first deciding what product they want—or are unsure of what they need when they first start looking—until the time it arrives at their business. This led to the company’s Accelerating the Customer Experience initiative, or ACE, which is built around strengthening both digital and multichannel sales within the organization and provide products and services with the company’s global private branding.

“We decided to put a stake in the ground with product knowledge and expertise,” Litwin says. “Fulfillment and delivery experience is critical in our industry. It continues to become a bigger part of the overall need set for customers—making sure that they’re getting products on time and quickly.”

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Customers can go directly to GlobalIndustrial.com and use the Knowledge Center to access articles written by industry experts offering advice or assessments of current industry news. In December, some posts included content on addressing supply chain issues, mitigating sole-source supplier risks, increasing facility safety, and choosing the best industrial floor scrubbers.

If users find that Global Industrial is a reliable resource, it creates another reason for customers to go to GlobaIndustrial.com outside of making a purchase, Litwin says. “If we can get people to come to us to solve problems, selling the product after that becomes easy,” he says.

Incorporating customer feedback into functionality

How customers search is rolled up into a weekly report that the distributor reviews to understand what customers are using and not using on the website. “We survey our customers from the time they visit our website to look for an item to the time they’ve checked out,” Litwin says. “It’s a survey process that effectively occurs every day.”

Part of that process includes identifying which of its products might benefit from “added extra value.” A strong global private brand assortment is a large part of Global Industrial’s longevity and success, Litwin says. “That extra value could be a new feature or different product color or finish,” he says.

“We have an adage where we try to add an extra chip in the cookie,” says Litwin. “If we can add that extra value, we’ll do that and price those items at a value price.”

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A group dedicated to private brand quality control works in tandem with various supplier management programs, which work with some of the largest manufacturers in the industry. “This allows Global Industrial to offer a complete assortment to its customers,” Litwin says.

Focusing on ways Global Industrial would work with other brands led to its collaboration earlier this year with heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. for industrial-grade floor-care machines. The distributor collaborated with Caterpillar to introduce a line of products available exclusively through Global Industrial, including floor scrubbers, sweepers and vacuums designed with high-performance features for industrial use. “It made sense. Caterpillar is synonymous with being rugged and durable,” Litwin says.

The venture with Caterpillar is a first step toward incorporating other brands moving forward, he adds. “We are excited with where this is going,” he says.

IoT practical applications make a big difference

Global Industrial’s digital transformation includes incorporating products and services for everyday needs. Daily must-haves for every business include practical operations like waste management. Without proper waste-management procedures in place, a lot of time and resources can be needlessly wasted. Recently, Global Industrial worked with Nordsense, a Danish supplier of waste-management technology systems, to introduce “Trash Talk” waste receptacles embedded with IoT sensors designed to allow customers monitor waste receptacle-fill levels in real time and manage more efficient pick-up schedules.

The Global Industrial Trash Talk product line will include 11 trash receptacles designed to allow cities, stadiums, shopping malls and other sprawling operations like college campuses to reduce the amount of time spent manually tending to waste receptacles.

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90% of the world’s waste is collected at the wrong time, Nordsense says. “This helps mitigate uptime,” Litwin says. “Think of a college campus or somewhere where you have to travel really far to get to places. This technology makes these waste receptacles like smart cans. It allows users to position routes each day already knowing which cans are empty without having to physically look.”

GlobalIndustrial-Trash Talk dashboard

An online dashboard for Global Industrial’s IoT-based Trash Talk system lets customers monitor receptacles and operate more efficient waste pick-up services.

Smart cans are only the beginning, he says. The new move into the internet-of-things space will segue into other ventures. “I think this IoT venture fits really well with our assortment and brings a good solution to our customers who are looking for that,” Litwin says.

Supply chain challenges heading into 2022

Customer needs have shifted from during the height of the pandemic of 2020 to a more consistent, healthy customer demand in 2021, says Litwin. In 2020, customers wanted more consumable products like cleaning supplies, which have taken a back seat in 2021 as customers move toward once again focusing on driving growth and investing in equipment to build their business.

Supply chain challenges, however, continue to affect all industries, Litwin says. “I haven’t seen any industry immune, it’s a mainstream problem,” he adds. Litwin says his company’s demand-planning has proven successful because the company is paying attention to overall inventory levels daily as well as growth in the markets it serves.

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From the time a product is out the factory door, loaded onto a shipping vessel, arrived at a port, and loaded onto trucks, Global Industrial keeps on-time performance metrics of each step and adjusts to any supply chain interruptions in real time, such as by adjusting shipments if necessary to customers. “We’re not immune to supply chain challenges, and we prioritize customers who have been waiting and will continue to do that,” he says.

“Driving growth is a consistent trend going forward,” Litwin says. “Supply constraints and limited product availability certainly resulted in us taking on some larger order positions and restricting some of the top lines we reported in Q3 2021. I do think we’ll be in this for a little while yet, but we’re getting a good projection of what we need to buy and don’t see inventory as a challenge.”

Litwin will appear as a main featured speaker at EnvisionB2B, which will premiere as a 3-day conference produced by DC360 Events June 8-10, 2022, in Chicago. DC360 Events is a unit of Vertical Web Media LLC, the publisher of Digital Commerce 360.

Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 B2B News, published 4x/week, covering technology and business trends in the growing B2B ecommerce industry. Contact senior editor Gretchen Salois at [email protected]

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