Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis, Mo., officially opened the doors on a regional distribution center in the Atlanta area, the second in a planned rollout of 19 zone warehouses nationwide over the next few years.

Graybar declined to say what it is investing in the RDC plan, but a spokesperson called the investment substantial. The 220,000-sq-ft facility in the Atlanta suburb of Austell will hold a multi-million-dollar inventory used to replenish Graybar branches throughout the region, to consolidate next-day shipments to customers and to stock slow-moving and hard-to-find items.

The Atlanta facility will also serve a larger territory as one of five national zone warehouses holding low-turn items, products for special marketing initiatives and new-product rollouts.

Graybar field-tested its RDC strategy in a zone warehouse that opened in Dallas in January. A third facility, in Fresno, Calif., is under development and its opening is planned for December. The fourth distribution center will be in a Chicago-area site and should be opened in February 1999. The rest of the 19 regional distribution centers in the current plan will be chosen in cities across the country within the next five years, according to a Graybar spokesperson, who added that the company hopes to beat the schedule and get the project finished as early as 2001.

The idea is to improve customer service while reducing costs. Local branches carry just enough product to satisfy demand for pickups, will-call orders and same-day shipments. Next-day shipments are handled by the regional warehouse.

This approach differs from Graybar's previous structure, which divided the country into four regional zones served by distribution centers that stocked solely slow-moving and hard-to-find items. They did not replenish the branches, nor did they handle next-day shipments to customers, says Graybar's spokesperson.