Last month, W.W. Grainger, Lincolnshire, Ill., released the 2009 edition of its big red catalog, with nearly 240,000 maintenance, repair and operating (MRO) products. The company's expanded product offering includes 8,000 new electrical products in categories ranging from circuit breakers to switches to relays.

The lines were added in response to customer demand for a broader selection of brands, said Fred Costello, Grainger's vice president of product development. The company goes through a two- to three-year process with each major new edition of the catalog to evaluate its product selection and adjust it to customer needs.

“Our goal is to have all the products our customers need for maintenance, repair and operations,” Costello said. “We look to see if we have gaps in our offering, and we look to spot major trends or price-value opportunities we're not offering currently. Then we try to add those other brands or price points.”

The review process led Grainger to boost its electrical lines significantly. The roughly 16,000 electrical SKUs in the new catalog account for just under 7 percent of the company's total list.

“When we looked at electrical, we found that our offering is relatively complete, but we needed additional brands,” Costello said. “A lot of times, when somebody is replacing an electrical component, they want to replace it with the same specific brand. We had a good offering in terms of form and fit, but we didn't have all the leading brands.”

Costello declined to discuss the new product lines in any detail out of concern for showing one line preferential treatment over another.

Grainger makes the same products listed in its catalog available through its network of more than 400 branch locations in the United States (600 worldwide), supplied through 14 central distribution centers. The branches don't have the complete offering on their shelves, of course, but do have it available next day from a DC.

Beyond the product expansion to the catalog, the company recently added 27,000 safety, material handling and other products to its online catalog at www.grainger.com, bringing the total products available online to more than 300,000.