Geoff Gannon August 2, 2016

MSC Industrial Direct (MSM): A Metalworking Supply Company

(This post is a reprint of one of the nine sections that make up last month’s Singular Diligence issue on MSC Industrial Direct.)

MSC Industrial Direct is an MRO (maintenance, repair, and overhaul) distributor focused on the metalworking industry. The company’s initials originally stood for Manhattan Supply Company. This is a company MSC’s predecessor acquired many years ago. MSC can trace its roots to Sidney Jacobson’s Sid Tool Company. Sid Tool was founded in 1941 in Manhattan. Sid Tool’s store sold cutting tools and accessories to New York City machine shops. The company moved to Long Island in the 50s. Business grew rapidly after World War Two. But Sid Tool soon became dependent on two key customers. Grumman Corporation and Republic Aircraft made up 90% of Sid Tool’s sales. To diversify its sales, Sid Jacobson started a catalog business. The catalog offered discount prices on imported cutting tools. Since it was a catalog instead of a store, the book was able to offer a wider range of products. Sid Tool’s catalog was launched in 1961. By 1964, it had over 150 pages. Today, MSC’s catalog – known as the “Big Book” has over 4,000 pages.

Within a few years, Sid Tool’s catalog sales were greater than the sales it had been making to those two key customers. Sid Tool was selling products it found at trade shows. Jacobson would visit trade shows and make up lists of the products he wanted to sell. Or manufacturers who saw Sid Tool’s catalog would contact him and ask to be put in the catalog. This allowed the catalog to have a wide range of products. But, it created a problem in the late 1960s. An imported item was out of stock. Sid Tool didn’t have the product on hand – though it was in the catalog – and was told it would take 6 months to fill the order. Jacobson wanted to make sure this would never happen again. So, in 1969, he installed a computerized inventory control system. MSC has been quick to adopt technology to manage inventory and fill orders quickly and accurately ever since.

In 1970, Sid Tool acquired Manhattan Supply Company. This is where the MSC name comes from. MSC opened its first distribution center in 1978. In the 1970s, Sidney Jacobson’s son, Mitchell Jacobson, joined the company and soon took over day-to-day management. Mitchell Jacobson was very young when he took over the company. So, he is actually still with MSC today. He serves as the company’s Chairman. Members of the extended Jacobson family control much of the economic interest – and a majority of the voting power – of MSC to this day.

Under Mitchell Jacobson, MSC started a geographic expansion. It went from 3 branches in the mid-1980s to 26 branches in 1990. That same year, MSC opened a second distribution center in Atlanta. This gave the New York based company better geographic coverage. The company also made same day shipping a priority. By 1991, MSC …

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