Many a small thing has been made large by MSC Industrial Direct's business; the company stands as one the largest US direct suppliers of industrial products. It distributes fasteners and measuring instruments, cutting tools, and plumbing supplies to some 320,000 customers in metalworking and maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) businesses. MSC Industrial stocks approximately 600,000 units from more than 2,200 suppliers. The company sells -- mainly to small and mid-size firms -- through its master catalog (which runs to several thousand pages), promotional mailings and brochures, as well as via telemarketing and the Internet. Chairman Mitchell Jacobson owns about 20% of MSC Industrial.
The heart of MSC Industrial's business strategy is service -- making supply purchases easier, faster, and less expensive for industrial customers. Its strategy has benefited from the US economy's slow recovery coupled with its customers' renewed ability to make purchases. During 2010 sales grew more than 13% over 2009, helping to drive a 20% bump in net earnings. MSC Industrial's results modestly offset the more than 36% drop in earnings suffered in 2009 from 2008.
In addition to the reviving economy, the company's improvement is gaining momentum from a number of measures initiated on its own. In late 2010 MSC Industrial acquired the assets of California-based Rutland Tool & Supply, a subsidiary of Lawson Products that markets and distributes a myriad metalworking tools and MRO supplies. The $11 million acquisition is anticipated to fuel sales and profits by strengthening MSC Industrial's customer base on the West Coast as well as its market share.
MSC Industrial has in the meantime enhanced its electronic procurement tools, along with promoting a next-day delivery program to customers in the contiguous US. MSC Industrial's marketing efforts are supported by a master catalog, published annually, and more than 120 specialty catalogs. Moreover, the acquisition and integration of MSC/J&L Metalworking, formerly J&L Industrial Supply, completed in 2006, gave MSC Industrial a strong metalworking brand as well as a presence in the central US.
MSC Industrial continues to build its national field sales force, too, which routes sales through five customer fulfillment centers and multiple branch offices in the US and UK. Earlier in 2010, it opened new branches in California, Nevada, and Ontario.
Equally significant, MSC Industrial has shifted its product mix and customer base by pursuing non-manufacturing large accounts, such as government projects. Mega buyers, these accounts also command volume discounts and purchase more lower-margin products. (Responding, the company has added to the number of MSC Industrial proprietary brands offered in its catalog.)
The company's working capital needs for these measures along with a decision to pay down its credit line and debt, as well as repurchase stock and make dividend payments, has eroded its cash position. After several consecutive years of rising liquidity, cash generated from operations dwindled by more than 45% in 2010 from 2009. – less