Grainger is over 1,000 employees and is still hiring

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Neil Johnson
Friday, June 23, 2017

JANESVILLE—A quarterback with a strong arm could heave a Hail Mary pass over the cubicles in the W.W. Grainger call center and still not hit the back end of the 130,000-square-foot office.

Not that anybody's tried.

Everyone at the Janesville call center is too busy fielding 16,000 phone calls and email contacts from customers the center gets each day.

Grainger's Wright Road facility is larger in size and scope than most companies in Janesville, and Grainger's employee headcount is among the largest under one roof in Janesville; it now totals more than 1,000 employees, spokesman Tony Macrito said.

Of those, 650 now work in the call center, servicing customers who order some of the hundreds of thousands of industrial products Grainger supplies to customers.

And the company continues to hire in Janesville.

Operations continues to grow in Janesville, company officials said, in part because the sprawling facility on the city's east side has effectively become one of Grainger's three national hubs for customer support.

Over the last year, Grainger has added hundreds of call employees in Janesville as it consolidated call centers from 150 locations across the country to just three.

Under the restructuring, Grainger's Janesville facility is resetting the plan of attack with new management, continued hiring and a growing emphasis on grooming some existing employees to become members of an expanding team of supervisors.

Grainger has settled into last year's renovation of the upper floors of the 450,000-square-foot complex on Wright Road. It's all part of the shift to becoming a call center.

Part of the interior buildout includes four 16-seat classrooms equipped with 120-inch TVs to train new employees.

Another training room recently had 25 employees in an “emerging leader” seminar for newly promoted Grainger supervisors. Formerly, employees rising through the ranks had to travel to Grainger's Lake Forest, Illinois, headquarters for weeks of training.

“It's incredibly helpful to have the training rooms and emerging leader training here as we're seeing so many people shift roles,” Tim Markus, Grainger's manager of human resources, said during a tour of the facility.

As Markus spoke, two groups of employees passed in different directions. One group was wheeling a cart full of ice for an office-wide Hawaiian luau running that day.

On the same floor, call center workers for Grainger e-commerce subsidiary Zoro—a tool supplier based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, and focused on small businesses—were on the job. Zoro within the last year has shifted 75 employees to a newly renovated part of Grainger's Janesville complex, and there's floor space set up for the company to double its workforce in Janesville.

“If it looks like there's a lot going on here, there is,” Markus said.

Within the last year, Shawn Mulligan has undertaken the roll as Grainger's Janesville contact center director. Mulligan, a former Sprint employee, moved to Janesville from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He was hired in mid-2016 to lead the Janesville call center through its massive growth and now to preside over an 18-month transition to one of Grainger's three main call centers.

Mulligan leads a team of call center supervisors that will soon reach 55 employees, he said. He directly manages 40 of those supervisors.

“I'm going to learn all of their names and all the associates' names. I promise,” Mulligan said.

Mulligan stood in the middle of the call center's floor, where a central aisle rolled out like an airport runway.

Around him, hundreds of people worked on contacts with customers, some via email and some over the phone. In another area, others worked on Grainger's e-commerce side, some manually monitoring customer clicks on Grainger's website and the sites of other companies Grainger works with and responding by manually sending pop-up prompts to those customers to help guide them in their searches.

Another group of employees worked with Grainger's government contracts.

Mulligan has seen the work stations and people on the floor multiply as he works to get his arms around coordinating a dozen departments in the call center. He pointed to one area of cubicles, some empty, others decorated with personal items of workers.

“Those cubicles weren't even there a couple months ago,” he said.

Each one of the call center workers in the facility is responsible for handling between 45 and 55 customer service contacts a day. In an eight-hour work shift, that's about five calls an hour.

A group of a half-dozen call center employees held a mid-day gaggle, tracing out a strategy for the day on a rolling whiteboard behind them and discussing it. They were 75 feet away (or more, or less—distance is relative in an office that's the size of more than two football fields), and their chatter was dampened, rendered inaudible by cloth padding on the dozens of work cubicles that surrounded them.

Grainger has ramped up its operations and hiring in Janesville dramatically over the last year while a recovering economy has pushed the local unemployment rate down to 4 percent or lower.

During that time, the pool of available workers has shrunk, and that's strained some area employers who need to expand.

Mulligan said Grainger's national call center consolidation has brought some employees into Janesville from far and wide, but he said Grainger's hiring demand is largely being filled by local people.

“If there's a hiring strain (in Janesville), I'm not seeing it here,” Mulligan said. “We're really going forward fast, and I've been very happy with the talent in Janesville. It's kept coming.”

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