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Digital-First Distributor

GME Supply GME Supply

How GME Supply delivers what customers want most: speed, ease, and expertise.

by Kim Phelan

There are two phrases GME President Ryan Keogh uses to describe his safety-oriented national distribution firm based in Columbia, Missouri. One is “gear expert,” by which he means the stuff customers’ people put on and take out with them into the wide world of “dispersed,” rugged, outdoor work as well as manufacturing environments. The other is “digital first,” which he says sums up the company’s simple, fast, and customized platform that gives their customers an industrial shopping experience on par with Amazon. Its e-commerce sites, GME.com and FWLSP.com, are platforms with PRO experiences designed specifically to serve large-scale customers.

GME Supply
Keogh says GME has a strong culture of entrepreneurial-minded
people, many of whom have been with the company since the
early days of the business.

Keogh, who just joined GME in December 2023, had no trouble getting his head around this key go-to-market strategy, which in fact drew him to the organization. Giving customers what they ultimately want in the digital age––hassle-free ordering, access to expertise when wanted, and lightning speed––GME has put the management of workwear, products, and safety supplies for a distributed workforce into overdrive.

They continue to add new products as well as features and benefits to expand their heavy emphasis on digital commerce. The company is also expanding investments in its branding customization process, another value-add for customers, whether it’s fire-retardant gear, workwear and uniforms, or supplies.

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“We continue to enhance our enterprise solutions platform, making it easier for our customers to manage orders,” Keogh said. “It’s a customized platform that we provide to our customers so they can place orders but also centrally manage orders for a large, geographically-dispersed workforce.”

GME’s sophisticated simplicity is a purchasing manager’s (or EHS/safety manager’s) dream come true.

GME Supply

“Say, for example, you’re a medium to large-scale wind farm, and you have technical maintenance teams spread all over Texas and Oklahoma,” said Keogh. “You can order cold-weather gear, or new safety gloves for 70 crews that ship to 30 different locations. That’s a tough ask. But with our digital platforms that are customized to them, it’s now easy for that one or two people in the purchasing department.”

The buyer controls specifications, and the system allows remote workers to make their individual selections. A worker would receive an email with a login to an app or the website and can then choose their size or other specific equipment within pre-set parameters. They press a button and their selection is mailed out to their location, which billing is automatically managed with the customer company. “It’s a very unique system,” Keogh added. “We do all the heavy lifting for them . . . we have the digital experience people crave.”

THE PEOPLE EQUATION

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As digitally sophisticated as GME has become however, Keogh underscores that the real secret behind its digital game is a cast of dedicated employees who are product experts. Customers that want full digital control get it. And customers that want expert advice have direct access to a sales rep who knows the best gear for myriad specific roles – not surprising, because reps go through hundreds of hours of product training to acquire an uncommon depth of expertise. GME has even trademarked the moniker “Gear Experts” for its team members.

“We have a strong culture of entrepreneurial-minded people, many of whom have been here since the early days of this business––their spirit of teamwork and can-do, accomplish-the-goal attitude permeates every layer of this organization,” he said.

“We’ll give the customer our expertise and will serve them however they want to be served,” he added. “Being digitally-first and being a people organization are not mutually exclusive. This is one of our competitive advantages. We use digital as an enablement tool – it’s something that the marketplace requires, and for us, it allows us to supplement our best asset, which is our people.

GME Supply

“Many GME staff, in fact, are involved in helping to set safety standards and create more productive environments in the industries the company serves, sitting on safety boards and participating in safety forums,” Keogh said.

On the customer service side, he calls their level of care unmatched, emphasizing customer care versus mere order-taking. With well-stocked locations all over the U.S. and Canada, GME ships the same day for orders in before 7 p.m. so customers aren’t stuck waiting.

MARKET CHALLENGES, OPPORTUNITIES

How is the safety and gear market doing today? Keogh says what GME distributes is critical to a growing economy, and he readily asserts it’s a great business to be in right now.

“We are more than just a safety supplies business,” he said. “We’re the premier outfitter of productivity and safety equipment for the industries we serve, whether that’s clothing and boots all the way through some very unique protective or safety gear to power tools and consumables that our customers need. When I think about the arc of time and the evolution of the renewable energy, utilities, and wired and wireless telecommunication markets, those are going to continue to grow and garner investment. So, whether it’s the services we provide, or the clothing and gear, or the expertise that enable our customers to be safe and more productive on the job.”

GME Supply

Customers are not without challenges, today, says Keogh, especially with interest rates making investment in capital expenditures tight and tough. In general, he characterizes most of his company’s customer base as cautiously optimistic in view of national interest in investing in infrastructure – as in the Inflation Reduction Act – and particularly wireless.

“We’re very optimistic about the long-term growth of telecommunications and utility services,” he said. “Large scale projects will be there for decades to come, and our customers are making sure they have the right products and services to be able to capture those projects.

“5G will be a large part of that, he added, and GME continues to see the expansion and building rollout of both small cell and large tower projects. In terms of investment, fiber projects are widespread, but also the need for power in data centers and car charging services will drive an ongoing need for the utility grid to be invested in. And so our customers serving the utility markets will continue to have the need of capital expenditures. It’s why we’re so positive about different markets, even some we haven’t always served. There is an unlimited need for data centers, it seems, and they need a lot of power. And the grid must be upgraded and maintained in order to serve them.”

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All six of GME's North American distribution centers feature a customer training facility for the customer workforce to learn essential safe practices with the supplies GME provides.

TRAINING AND TRACKING

Having just about perfected digital purchasing tools, GME has learned that in-person, live connections with customers is just as important for a gear and safety supplies distributor – the more they can personally engage with customer personnel, the deeper the trust and loyalty will be. Training is also a logical offshoot of the business where they can live out their commitment to helping customers work safely.

GME Supply

Located in New York, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, California, and Ontario, all six of GME’s North American distribution centers feature a customer training facility for the customer workforce to learn essential safe practices with the supplies GME provides. This includes training for rescue, confined spaces, safe climbing certifications, as well as global wind certifications for renewable energy workers.

“Being a distributor that has the training is something we feel sets us apart, both in terms of the expertise we have, as well as the set-up of our spaces,” Keogh said. “And tracking and auditing is also critical for safety. It can be hard to manage, so we’ve got solutions that help our customers audit and track the training certification aspects, on the corporate side. If they’re putting folks out in the field, they need to make sure they’re trained and certified and that everything is up to date.”

LEADERSHIP

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A West Point alum and former Army ranger involved in special operations, Keogh takes his leadership cues from a military adage, “Mission First, People Always.” He says an important lesson he took from his seven years in service was being aware that you’re always part of something bigger than yourself and that putting others before yourself requires sacrifice, whether you’re a business leader, a team member, or even a parent.

“A long time ago, somebody told me, ‘If you want to know your ability as a leader, take away your ability to punish and see if anybody follows.’ Just like our customers choose whether to do business with us, our people make a conscious choice to work here, and we’re incredibly proud of our team and how they accomplish the mission. As the Gear Experts, they’re solving our customers’ problems every day.”

GME Supply

While underscoring his focus on executing on the company’s current strengths, Keogh hints there will be considerable expansion into new and adjacent markets in the new future. “We’ll be excited to talk about it when it happens.”






This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of 
Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2024, Direct Business Media.

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