In our last article on machine tool suppliers, we spent a bit of time outlining MSC Industrial Supply and Enco. Of course these are not the only two games in town so today we cover two other major players in the industrial supply world: McMaster-Carr and Grainger.
Having been around since 1901, McMaster-Carr knows a thing or two about Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) supplies, as well as being a general machine tool supplier. McMaster-Carr is strictly a mail order house and does not have walk-in retail stores. What they do have though is a 3,800 page catalog and over 550,000 products backed up by a strategic warehouse network that will get a product to you within 1 to 2 working days from the time of order. McMaster-Carr does not offer a large choice of similar items and does not often mention name brands in their catalog. In many cases, you’ll have to call or email to obtain a manufacturer’s name. For an example, take twist drills. McMaster-Carr lists them by size, style, and coating, but sells only one offering in each category. I personally do not know their strategy for name brand selection, but I’ve found their choices to be of good quality.
As for the catalog itself, good luck getting your hands on a copy unless you are a large volume customer of theirs. They print it in very limited numbers, which lends to a market for old catalogs on auction sites like eBay (where a new in the box current copy can fetch upwards of $100). Older catalogs are collectors items, too, and often sell for several times that amount.
Not to worry, though. All items in their print catalog can be found online with a streamlined layout that is easy to use.
Grainger Industrial Supply
Grainger not only stocks 450,000 items available for mail order but also has over 350 branch locations where you can simply stop in to purchase your goods. They are primarily an MRO industrial supplier, but they also stock and sell general machine shop items like cutting tools, raw materials, abrasives, and measuring tools. Grainger’s extensive customer service sets it apart from other machine tool suppliers.
Say it’s 7:00PM on a Sunday night. You have an order to fill that is due at 9:00AM on Monday morning, and you’ve just fried the motor on your lathe. Grainger will actually open up a branch for you with just a telephone call — nights, weekends, or any time that they’re closed. They may charge a $50 service fee, but few companies offer this service at any price, and when needed, that service can be of tremendous value. During a disaster such as hurricane or tornado, Grainger will also open its doors and keep them open, allowing emergency responders as well as the general public access to generators, heaters, first aid supplies, and other emergency gear.
Grainger offers other miscellaneous services including auto-reorders, inventory management, and a locator service for goods not stocked or sold by themselves. That’s right — they will go to a competitor to find what you need!
Next up, going local
That covers four of the larger machine tool suppliers, but of course there are several more out there, both large and small. In the final article in the series, we will look at the ins and outs of doing business with local, private firms where you can purchase metals, plastics and other materials for the machine shop.