Staging a major coup in the fiercely competitive national accounts arena, Schneider North America's Square D Co., Palatine, Ill., locked up a contract to supply all electrical distribution, control and automation systems to all U.S. facilities of IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., for the next three years. Graybar Electric Co., St. Louis, will handle order management and tracking of sales and deliveries for the entire contract through its locations nationwide. Square D estimated the contract's volume at $25 million annually.

Nearly three years in the works, the deal makes Groupe Schneider/Square D products the first choice at IBM's real estate and site operations throughout the country, including manufacturing plants, data centers, administrative offices and other facilities. The deal also includes Square D OEM components for IBM products such as mainframes.

Square D and its competitors were subjected to intensive analysis on factors ranging from breadth and quality of product offering to distributor support and contractor preference, said William Schaphorst, manager of strategic accounts for Square D and Schneider North America, who oversees the contract on the Square D side.

The move to standardize on one manufacturer of these products is part of IBM's pursuit of "more sophisticated approaches to cost reduction," said Ray Gunner, manager of IBM's southern region site operations.

Square D called Graybar an integral component in the agreement. One reason IBM chose Graybar was for its information systems, which will address problems of information gathering and reporting, said Chuck Holstrom, national accounts manager for Graybar. IBM will use the systems to track and manage product and information flow through its facilities and those of its trading partners. Both Square D and Graybar have assigned national account teams and specialists to the IBM account.

The agreement treats Graybar strictly as the channel for Square D products. Graybar is hoping to expand that list to include other products and other vendors it represents nationally, said Holmstrom, but no agreement has been reached on that point.