Grainger to sell three local brands

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Jim Leute
Monday, December 2, 2013

JANESVILLE—A Wisconsin company plans to buy three of W.W. Grainger specialty brands, a move that will result in transition for more than 200 employees and end the distribution of Grainger products from its sprawling Janesville facility.

The Brillion-based Ariens Co. said Monday it will buy Gempler's, Ben Meadows and AW Direct by Jan. 1. All three brands are direct marketing companies that provide equipment and supplies to niche professional markets.

Gempler's serves the agricultural, horticultural, grounds maintenance and contractor markets, while Ben Meadows focuses the forestry, fire and rescue, resource management and grounds maintenance markets.

AW Direct serves the towing and service vehicle markets.

In Janesville, the three brands employ about 210 people at Grainger, the Chicago-based company that bought the homegrown Lab Safety Supply in 1992.

Ralph Howard, Ariens' president of global aftermarket, said substantially all of the 210 Grainger employees would be offered jobs with Ariens.

“It's status quo as far as we're concerned,” said Howard, who between 2009 and 2011 was Grainger's vice president of specialty brands and ran the Janesville operation.

The administrative team for the three brands is split between offices in Janesville and Madison, and that will continue, Howard said.

“All of the pick, pack and ship operations will be done in Janesville,” he said.

In an effort to focus on its core product lines, Grainger has been trying to sell specific specialty brands for the last couple of years.

Together, the three brands will post $90 million in revenue in 2013. Last year, Grainger had sales of $9 billion as North America's leading supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products.

“These are strong and viable brands, but they don't closely align with our strategic direction as a company,” Court Carruthers, Grainger's group president for the Americas, said Monday in a memo to employees.

Ariens plans to lease space from Grainger, both in its office and distribution center on North Wright Road in Janesville.

Established in 1933, Ariens is an outdoor power equipment manufacturing and distribution company serving consumer and professional markets. It employs more than 1,400 people with operations in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Indiana, Michigan, the United Kingdom, Norway and Australia.

“As we grow the distribution side of the business, these companies represent strong niche segments that fit nicely with our current portfolio of outdoor brands,” said Dan Ariens, the company's president and chief executive officer.

“This acquisition allows us to build a more diverse distribution platform for the company that will ultimately help offset the inherent seasonality of some of the company's equipment products such as snow blowers.”

Ariens said his company would work toward a seamless transition so customers do not experience any disruption of service or changes within the three brands.

Grainger's Janesville facility totals about 480,000 square feet of space, about 320,000 square feet of which are dedicated to distribution.

Grainger spokesman Joe Micucci said once the sale closes, the company would employ more than 500 people at the facility working in customer services, finance, product support and web channels—all office-type jobs.

Starting in January, the Janesville plant will no longer be used as a distribution center for any of Grainger's products, he said.

What Grainger doesn't lease to Ariens in distribution space will used for long-term storage of Grainger products and equipment, he added.

“We are still in Janesville, proud to be in Janesville and remain committed to the community,” Micucci said. “In the next 12 to 18 months, we plan to add about 100 (Grainger) jobs in Janesville.”

Howard said Ariens hopes to grow its new business in Janesville, too.

“It's a great location for us, with a great product line and a great group of employees,” he said. “It's a fantastic opportunity for us.”

Last updated: 7:29 am Tuesday, December 3, 2013

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