Keeping tabs on 11 million products (no, that’s not an exaggeration) would be a difficult task for any company. Add in the need to present the inventory so it’s at customers’ fingertips at all times—and you’ve got a massive challenge on your hands.
Zoro, a division of Grainger, is an e-commerce company that sells industrial supplies, equipment and tools—everything from nuts and bolts to lubricants and cleaners. “We have an endless assortment of products,” says Andy Goodfellow, Zoro’s Chief Technology Officer. “Our number one priority is to make it easy for our customers to find, buy and get everything they need.”
This unwavering devotion to customer success catapulted the business to $1 billion in sales revenue in 2022. But being an efficient one-stop shop for its customers at scale isn’t a simple feat; it’s been essential for Zoro to have its own wall-to-wall solution to organize its people and operations.
That’s where Slack comes in.
“Instead of going back and forth forever trying to schedule a Google meeting, I’m able to stay in the moment”
Slack is Zoro’s all-in-one productivity platform
Zoro has relied on Slack since its inception, and the platform has grown with the company—from around 20 daily active users in 2014 to more than 700 today—helping it maintain its culture of collaboration, transparency and innovation.
“At this point, we’re totally decentralized,” Goodfellow explains. “Zoro used to be focused on the Chicago area because that’s where our locus of talent was. And then the pandemic changed everything.” Suddenly, the company was no longer bound by geography and quickly started hiring all over the country, scooping up the very best personnel to work on two top goals:
- Maintaining clean data on its sprawling catalog of products
- Making those products easy for its customers to find
Because Zoro’s workforce is now everywhere, Slack has become even more critical. Remote collaboration is the norm, from all-hands meetings with purpose-built channels for live discussion to audiovisual features like huddles and clips.
“Instead of going back and forth forever trying to schedule a Google meeting, I’m able to stay in the moment,” says Brian Ivanov, Zoro’s Senior Director of Project Management Operations. “Let’s just hop on a huddle really quick and work this out in five minutes, instead of spending half an hour typing to each other.”
Enabling lightning-fast incident resolution with automated integrations
When the unexpected arises, Slack helps Zoro get to the bottom of the issue faster than legacy tools allow. Every time a problem occurs, a team of experts performs a “case swarm”: after creating a dedicated channel, DevOps, engineers and security technicians will rapidly assess the root cause of the incident and take measures to prevent a similar one from occurring in the future.
Let’s say a microservice has an abnormal change in throughput. Datadog, the platform monitoring system, immediately declares an incident and pings the on-call technology responder chain, while automatically spinning up a response channel in Slack. From there, the initial responder uses Slack’s built-in @mention feature to call in subject-matter experts who can dig into the problem—all right there in Slack. Plus, there’s historical context in the channel, so new arrivals can quickly get up to speed.
“The integrations and automations in Slack have made us quicker and more efficient at responding to business needs when they arise,” says Mike Majca, Senior Manager of End-User Computing. “We also created automations to help with onboarding, including a ‘welcome to Zoro’ email sent to all new hires via Slackbot. This has made the onboarding process smoother for both Zoro and the employee.”
These integrations don’t just shine in emergencies; they’ve also streamlined Zoro’s process for pushing new updates to its site. Early in the morning, Jenkins might kick off a new release branch so it’s ready first thing, when quality-assurance personnel log on to perform a pre-production review. If everything looks good and the update is ready to ship, QA then uses Bitbucket to raise a poll request, which leadership can approve in one click within Slack.
“One of the best things is the time shift, it’s so much better than email. You can schedule messages to accommodate their time zone, and they can reply while you’re offline. You don’t have to worry about spam. It’s a closed loop.”
Transforming external partnerships with Slack Connect
Zoro’s partnerships with its vendors have gone supersonic, thanks to the fact that they can now work together in the same Slack workspace.
Previously, the team might have fallen back on a mishmash of emails and phone calls, which made it hard to keep records or offer transparent context to new stakeholders. But thanks to Slack Connect, Zoro has developed even closer relationships with its suppliers.
Before, there was significant communication lag. But when suppliers joined Zoro’s Slack workspace, they found a more natural, conversational way of working together—still asynchronously, but much faster than sending emails or talking on the phone. “If we didn’t have Slack and weren’t able to communicate with our partners and vendors in this way, we’d be a lot worse off,” Goodfellow says.
Slack Connect has also helped Zoro stay in close contact with Grainger and its sister companies in Japan and the U.K., in no small part because one party can deliver work done while the other is sleeping. “One of the best things is the time shift,” Goodfellow says. “It’s so much better than email. You can schedule messages to accommodate their time zone, and they can reply while you’re offline. You don’t have to worry about spam because you know the channel is just between you and them. It’s a closed loop.”
Building a vibrant workplace culture
You know what they say about all work and no play. It’s not lost on the team at Zoro, who goes to great lengths to create recreational outlets for its employees, whether they’re in the form of hobby-focused channels or automating a little friendly competition. Think #3D-printing, #petsofzoro, #beautiful-places and the much-loved #ping_pong, which has integrated sensors that can tell if the office table is in use and a workflow that allows players to report their scores.
A culture of transparency has been essential to rallying employees around a shared goal. “Transparency is one of our core values, and we live it by communicating in public,” Goodfellow says. “Doing that in a company of more than 700 employees is no small task. Slack has helped us translate our company values into the way we collaborate together, which has made us a really attractive place to work.”