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Last up is
W.W. Grainger(GWW - Get Report), a $16 billion industrial supply firm that provides more than 2 million businesses with everything from toilet paper to power drills. Grainger is one of just a couple of big fish in an extremely fragmented industry, which gives the firm the ability to serve bigger national accounts as well as to grow its business on a regional basis. Size means that GWW can provide cost benefits that smaller, less-efficient competitors can't match.
While the firm's footprint covers more than 600 brick-and-mortar branches, online sales have been a major growth area for Grainger in the last few years, now climbing to almost a fifth of total sales. That makes GWW better able to challenge
Fastenal's(FAST) huge store network. While Grainger may be a big fish in the industrial supply business, FAST is the whale, and any playing field levelers are huge for GWW. As industrial spending ticks higher in 2013, Grainger shouldn't have trouble finding another year of growth.
Grainger has a long track record of returning value to shareholders. The firm has hiked its dividend every consecutive year for more than four decades now -- and I think it's a safe bet for that trend to continue in 2013, particularly as GWW posts even bigger profits. Until then, the firm's 80-cent quarterly payout amounts to a 1.4% yield.
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-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.