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WW Grainger Inc (NYSE:GWW)
Q3 2019 Earnings Call
Oct 23, 2019, 11:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Greetings and welcome to the W.W. Grainger Third Quarter 2019 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions]. It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Irene Holman, Vice President, Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Irene Holman -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Good morning, welcome to Grainger's Q3 earnings call. With me are DG Macpherson, Chairman and CEO and Tom Okray, CFO. As a reminder, some of our comments may be forward-looking based on our current view of future events. Actual results may differ materially as a result of various risks and uncertainties, including those detailed in our SEC filings. Reconciliations of any non-GAAP financial measures mentioned on today's call with their corresponding GAAP measures are at the end of this slide presentation and in our Q3 press release, both of which are available on our IR website.

This morning's call will focus on adjusted results. And now, I'll turn it over to DG.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Irene. Good morning, thank you for joining us today. I'm going to discuss our Q3 results, ensure an update on the US and endless assortment growth initiatives that we introduced earlier this year, and Tom will provide details on the quarter, and we'll open it up for questions.

We have had solid results so far this year as we manage through the uncertainty of the current environment. Despite softening global demand, we have accelerated our sequential share gain in the US business and continue to invest for growth in our endless assortment business, Zoro. We've also been diligent in partnering with our suppliers to manage cost and a driven expense leverage across our US and Canadian businesses.

Year-to-date total company operating margin is up 30 basis points that we've driven incremental margin of 26%.

We've also maintained the guidance that we said on the Q4 call in January for total company gross profit margin, operating margin, and earnings per share. I want to commend our team members for all the work they've done to strive during this environment. From our recent US customer visits, it's clear that demand has slowed, but it's also clear that things are not falling off a cliff, and that we have great opportunities to continue to gain share.

Earlier this month, I spent time with a large manufacturer in the Southeast, they have seen strong growth due to their ability to innovate. Our team members have build solid relationships with leadership and operation staff and are delivering solutions that matter. This customer reviews Grainger's providing exceptional service for a part of their operation. We have leveraged our KeepStock inventory management system to make it easy for this customer to have what they need when they need it.

We only have a portion of this customer spend today. Because of our reliable partnership and our ability to deliver real value, we're exploring ways to expand our offer. This means finding ways for this customer to save more money by ensuring that they're using the right products, at the right cost, and managing usage and inventory effectively. When we do these things well, we gain share. I rarely visit a customer with the opportunity to create value and gain share is not significant. And we do this across our business through two models.

In our high tech solutions model we provide relevant products and services to customers to drive efficiencies and to save them money. Through our endless assortment model, we provide value through an expansive assortment that is easily accessed through a streamlined search experience. In these challenging times, we continue to focus on what matters. We're investing for growth in both business models.

Our strong balance sheet allows us to invest in good times and bad, and we are rigorous in our expense management. We have already achieved, roughly 200 million in savings the last two years and have expectations for continued productivity moving forward. With that, let's take a closer look at our performance in the US in Q3.

Similar to what we are seeing from economic indicators, we estimate that US market growth decelerated from approximately 2% to 2.5% in Q1 and approximately 1% in Q2, to about flat in Q3. We are seeing softness across most end-markets including heavy manufacturing natural resources, contractors, and in pockets light manufacturing. We have seen some of our customers, particularly in heavy manufacturing and natural resources slow production.

The healthcare market remains quite strong and we are seeing flat to modest growth in government and retail end markets. US segment share gain accelerated sequentially in the third quarter with 250 basis points of outgrowth versus the market. US large business grew 2% and 10% on a two-year stack and US midsize grew 5% and 23% on a two-year stack.

Let me spend a few minutes providing an update on our US growth initiatives, which we introduced in May of this year. As previously communicated, these initiatives fall into two buckets, the first our improvements to our foundation that ensure that we stay competitive, this includes improving the quality of our product and customer data, embedding our KeepStock offer, and enhancing the customer experience.

Second bucket of initiatives are incremental investments that contribute to our long-term goal of 300 to 400 basis points of growth above market. Our initiatives are beginning to take hold as evidenced by our 250 basis points of share gain in the quarter. Our merchandising efforts are showing strong incremental revenue lift driven by our comprehensive category review process. About $0.5 billion of product revenue has been remerchandised and we're seeing good results.

We expect to get through about $1 billion for assortment by year-end. We made incremental marketing investments in the third quarter and our return on these investments has steadily improve throughout the year, which has exceeded our expectations. We have made solid progress in improving the customer experience, they have increased the effectiveness of our order -- our order to cash processes beginning of this year. Our customer feedback suggests that we provide the best experience in our space.

We have reenergized our corporate account work and have seen improvements in share gain with this group of customers. Finally, we are on track to start receiving inbound shipments to our Louisville DC in the fourth quarter. We are encouraged by our ability to accelerate sequential share gain in the US and we remain fully committed to 300 to 400 basis points of outgrowth versus the market on an ongoing basis.

I also want to spend a few minutes on our growth initiatives at Zoro, US. You've heard us talk about expanding the product assortment at Zoro. Our goal is to add 10 million items over the next 3 to 5 years. In the third quarter we added about 350,000 SKUs, which brings us to 800,000 SKUs for the year. These product ads are driving incremental revenue growth on a pursue basis that is similar to what we've seen historically and MonotaRO.

Our investment in systems and people to help drive this growth are also going well. We launched a new marketing campaign in September and the results are promising, although early.

We are optimistic about the trajectory of Zoro going forward. The bulk of our investments in this business will be compete -- completed by the end of this year and we expect strong growth in profitability moving forward. Now the natural tenancy would be to cut back on these type of investments during a soft market. But we are focused on long-term growth of our business and we'll continue to make prudent investments while driving productivity.

Now, I'll turn it over to Tom, who will discuss the quarter's results in more detail.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks DG. Looking at our total company adjusted results for the quarter, daily sales were up 2.5%, volume grew 2.5%, and both price and the impact of FX were flat to the prior year. Two of our businesses, AGI and Cromwell, are not only facing challenging end markets, but are also in the middle of turnarounds. Their results are adversely impacting the company's performance. For perspective, the US segment and endless assortment businesses combined were up 4.5% in the quarter and 5% year-to-date versus the prior year.

Moving to gross profit, our total company gross profit margin declined 80 basis points versus the prior year.

The decline in gross profit margin was driven primarily by the timing of US price adjustments during the year, which resulted in negative price cost spread in the US in the third quarter, lower gross profit margin of our endless assortment businesses also contributed to the decline. Year-to-date our total company gross profit margin is down 40 basis points versus the prior year, for the fourth quarter, we expect the company's gross profit margin to be higher than the third quarter.

We drove operating earnings growth of 2% in the quarter. Our operating margin however declined 20 basis points versus the prior year due primarily to the investments we're making to drive growth at Zoro. Excluding the investments in Zoro, SG&A leverage completely offset the gross profit margin decline in the quarter.

As expected, SG&A grew at half the rate of sales. As an organization, we will continue to rigorously manage expenses while ensuring we are providing the absolute best experience for our customers. Year-to-date operating margin has expanded 30 basis points and with driven incremental margin of 26%. We are also focused on generating strong cash flow, while operating cash flow in the quarter decreased 8% driven primarily by unfavorable timing of supplier payments, operating cash flow was up 3.5% year to date and close to 100% of reported net income. Year-to-date, we've returned $842 million to shareholders through $242 million in dividends and $600 million in share buybacks. We expect to continue to buy back shares in the fourth quarter.

Now let's turn to our performance in the US. The demand environment has slowed throughout the year and the market was flat in the third quarter. Daily sales were up 2.5% comprised of volume growth of 2.5%, flat price inflation, a 0.5% increase of intercompany sales to Zoro and a 0.5% decline in Specialty brand.

In the quarter, we grew 250 basis points faster than the market driven by strong execution of our US growth initiatives. US gross profit margin declined 80 basis points in the quarter versus the prior year, driven primarily by product cost inflation outpacing price inflation, partially offset by favorability in the supply chain. At the beginning of 2019, we wanted to ensure that our pricing was sufficient to cover product cost increases related to tariffs and general inflation. In retrospect, we were a little too aggressive. To ensure that our pricing was market based, we dialed pricing back in the second quarter. While third quarter gross profit margin was a little below our expectations, we estimate the gross profit margin will be higher in the fourth quarter then the third quarter and the results for the entire year will be consistent with the expectations set at the start of the year.

In an environment with uncertainty around tariffs and market demand, quarterly noise is common in place. The year-to-date picture is often more useful in evaluating performance, more perspective on a year-to-date basis, excluding the writedown of remaining contract negotiations our price cost spread is favorable. Further, we continue to effectively manage product cost inflation related to both tariffs and general inflation. In the quarter, both improved sequentially and we expect that trend to continue in the fourth quarter.

US operating earnings increased 4% in the quarter, US operating margin was flat versus the prior year, as lower gross profit margin was completely offset by SG&A leverage. SG&A was flat and sales growth of 4%. In Canada, daily sales declined 14.5% on a constant currency basis. Price inflation was 1% in the quarter and volume declined 15.5%. Volume remains the main issue in Canada. While optimization of the cost structure is strong, it's taking time for us to stabilize top line performance.

Operating margin was positive in the third quarter for the first time in 2019, driven by improvement to gross profit margin and continued diligence on the SG&A line. Gross profit margin improved 50 basis points versus the prior year, largely due to supply chain efficiencies offsetting negative price cost spread.

Moving to other businesses, which includes our endless assortment model and our international portfolio, daily sales were up 9% in the third quarter on a constant currency basis, due to revenue growth from our endless assortment model. Together, MonotaRO and Zoro daily sales grew 19.5% in the quarter. Gross profit margin for the other businesses declined 130 basis points, driven by promotional activities at Zoro and freight headwinds at both Zoro and MonotaRO. Operating margin declined 220 basis points for the other businesses, primarily driven by long-term growth investments in Zoro, US and performance at Cromwell.

As we've mentioned in the past, the Cromwell business is facing operational challenges while also experiencing a difficult economic climate. The business is taking action to improve service and the customer experience to drive top line growth while also improving the cost structure. Page 14 covers our guidance for 2019. At the total company level, we are reiterating all of our guided metrics, at the segment level we expect the US segment and other businesses to be within their guided ranges. For AGI, we now expect to finish the year below the guided range.

Now, I'll turn it back to DG for closing remarks.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Tom. Our performance so far this year has been solid even in the slower growth environment and with the added uncertainty around tariffs. While AGI and Cromwell continue to be challenged, customer feedback is much better in both businesses. We have done a lot of work to get the cost structure and service right at AGI and Cromwell and are well positioned to grow in the future.

I was at Cromwell earlier this month, and even with the economic challenges customers were pleased with our improved service, we are exploring how to expand these relationships. We are happy with the growth of our endless assortment businesses and the progress we're seeing with our US growth initiatives .

We've driven strong incremental margin year-to-date and are maintaining our total Company guidance. We are committed to delivering strong performance over the short term and long term. Our performance expectations remain the following. We expect our initiatives in the US to drive 300 to 400 basis points of outgrowth versus the market on an ongoing basis.

We believe Canada is an attractive market for Grainger, we will continue our work to drive profitable growth in that business. We expect to accelerate growth with our endless assortment model through the strength of the MonotaRO in Japan and the investments we're making in Zoro, US.

Overall, we expected our strong SG&A leverage and operating margin improvement for the year, resulting an incremental margin of 20% to 25%.

Now, we'll open it up for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] Our first question today is coming from David Manthey from Baird. Your line is now live.

David Manthey -- Robert W. Baird & Co -- Analyst

Thank you. Good morning. You mentioned the long-term goal of growing SG&A half the rate of sales growth and you've obviously done a great job of that over the past several years, and clearly that equation is lot easier when you're growing 8% than when you're growing 2 but you've actually done it in both environments. What I'm wondering is, as we go forward here we're looking ahead to the next year or so, do you have a specific plan in place that will keep that expense leverage going or at some point we just see natural low single-digit inflation returned to the cost stack in any case.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Dave. I would say that we are constantly working on improving our expenses in our cost structure, we have built in an expectation that the functions in the business will cover things like merits going forward. And we're working through plans for next year right now as you might guess, but we feel pretty confident that we can continue to get cost productivity throughout the business and we'll work hard to make sure that we continue to deliver the performance we've been delivering.

David Manthey -- Robert W. Baird & Co -- Analyst

Okay, thanks. And then DG when you said that you expect to return to strong profitability in the endless assortment business or something along those lines, the improved profitability. I'm just wondering if you can help us define that. Historically when you look at segment contribution margins following periods of investment you've got as high as maybe the mid or higher teens. Is that what we should be thinking about for contribution margins in the other business segment going forward?

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So, I would say that if you look at the online businesses which are part of the other segment, our expectation is we will return Zoro to profitability and we'll begin the migration over the next several years up to very strong profitable like we see MonotaRO. And I think MonotaRO, and I'll give you a sense for where we hope to be able to get with the Zoro business. So that's our objective. And it will take several years to get there as we come out of these investments. But we're pretty confident we can continue to grow profit.

Operator

Thank you, and next question today is coming from Ryan Merkel from William Blair. Your line is now live.

Ryan Merkel -- William Blair -- Analyst

Hey, thanks. Couple of questions. So first, I just want to clarify why gross margins are going to improve in the fourth quarter versus the third quarter. I apologize if I missed it.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, gross margins typically improved sequentially Q3 versus Q4 this year, Q4 versus Q3 they typically will improve, and this quarter is going to be no different going into Q4. We are seeing general inflation and tariffs inflation going down, and that's the main driver for the -- for gross profit going up in Q4.

Ryan Merkel -- William Blair -- Analyst

Got it, OK. And then you mentioned a price adjustment in the second quarter. Can you just tell us how much did you lower prices. Maybe on average and was it broad based across all the SKUs, or was it more targeted?

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

It was more targeted, obviously we're working on this on a continuous basis. As we said in the prepared remarks coming up to Q1 we thought we overshot a little bit, so we went back and really scrubbed some SKUs we raised, some SKUs we lowered. Overall, though, we lowered.

Ryan Merkel -- William Blair -- Analyst

Got it. Okay. I'll pass it on. Thanks.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

One other comment related to the first question on gross margin, we also expect some favorability in supply chain to help us out related to Q4, we see softening in the supply chain area of the transportation area. We expect that to also be a factor in Q4.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is coming from Christopher Glynn from Oppenheimer. Your line is now live.

Christopher Glynn -- Oppenheimer -- Analyst

Hey, thanks, good afternoon, out there. So a lot of emphasis on the 300 to 400 basis points of long-term sustainable outgrowth. I wanted to narrow that down into medium, give a little more detail on traction on your initiatives in prospect to kind of inflect that growth, higher. I think last quarter you talked about things like assortment sales coverage and digital experience, so wondering how you're seeing those kind of discrete drivers kind of ramp on the ground level.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thanks, Chris. We continue to expect our midsized customer growth and share gain to be higher than the overall US share gain. We continue to see that, we certainly given the way we cover and interact with customers, things like merchandising and marketing have an outsized impact, they impact all of our customers but they have an outsized impact on the midsize customers and that has continued to play out. And our expectation is that we will continue to grow significantly faster in the next several years with midsize customers than with the whole. And the initiatives are playing out pretty much as expected at this point.

Christopher Glynn -- Oppenheimer -- Analyst

Okay. And then with Canada, I just wanted to, I think you talked a little bit more about sales stabilization in prior quarters. Just wonder wondering where is the cross section between the customer reengagement, you've talked about with stabilized service levels versus kind of softening macro up above?

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I'd say that when we have a number of our sales leaders in and we interact with them frequently and I've been talking to them, and I've been hearing from customer feedback. We are now having conversations and getting permission to grow with our customers. And that's -- it's been several years frankly since that's been the case. And so we are right at the, it feels like we're right at the precipice now of being able to start climbing again and grow based on the work we've done and it's been a long haul, but we feel like we're having the right conversations now. So we're a lot more confident now that we've been in several years.

Christopher Glynn -- Oppenheimer -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question today is coming from Deane Dray from RBC Capital Markets. Your line is now live.

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Thank you. Good morning, everyone. I know you're not in the giving of 2020 guidance yet but just could you talk qualitatively what you're expecting the US MRO market to look like. One of the other big industrial distributors talked about a flattish expectations for the first half. How do you think the operating environment for MRO will be and then related to that, what caused you to step up into that 300 to 400 basis points of outgrowth and what might the timeframe be for that? So two part question. Thanks.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, thanks Deane . So I think we don't have any crystal ball is different than others are seeing, we are planning for a wide range of potential market growth outcomes for next year and building plans around the wide range, I think flattish is not a bad place to start. Probably, but anybody's guess, but that would not be a certainly a wrong estimate at this point, but we are planning for a fairly wide range. We actually are -- we have a set of initiatives that we've talked about that we believe are starting to build to getting us to that 300 to 400 basis points.

If you look at the quarter on a volume basis, we were significantly higher than 300 basis points of growth actually. So we are starting to get confident that we have the right initiatives in place to grow 300, 400 basis points. And I think we've been talking about with merchandising, marketing, adding sellers corporate account growth, reenergizing things like our Keepstock program. So we feel like we've got the right initiatives and we're starting to get some of that traction right now.

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Terrific. And just as a follow-up, is there any update on Gamut, it looks like that website is in transition. You talked a bit about how that might be happening and then maybe some update on the improvement of the search capability and the roll out there. Appreciate it. Thank you.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So Gamut is no longer a consumer-facing, where a customer facing website, all those earnings have been built into the Grainger processes, we're building a new product information system that will be live in the fourth quarter. We've actually, when we talk about remerchandising $0.5 billion so far this year, a lot of the insights from Gamut are actually in those remerchandising. So if you look at the categories that we've gone through, you see a lot of lessons there. So we have effectively built what we've learned from Gamut into grainger.com. We continue to get improved feedback from customers and that will only get better and better as you continue to build out more categories and improve the product information. So we're pretty excited about the path we're on in terms of our search experience right now.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is coming from Robert Barry from Buckingham Research. Your line is now live.

Robert Barry -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Hey, everyone. Good morning.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning.

Robert Barry -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Just a quick follow up on Ryan's question I think Tom you mentioned seeing inflation going down, was that just a comment on freight or is that broader comment.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Broader, I mean sequentially, if you look at what we've experienced in Q3 versus Q2 we saw both tariff related inflation and general inflation go down. We expect that to continue in Q4 as well.

Robert Barry -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Okay. So do you expect to be price cost positive in 4Q?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I didn't say that, we'll come back to what we said for the entire year, we expect to be price cost neutral, excluding our pricing writedowns that we've done.

Robert Barry -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Got it. It just seems a little counter intuitive because the tariff headwinds seem to be growing.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Actually if you look at the tariffs how we've experienced them throughout the year, they've been fairly constant and now that we're starting to lap some of the tariffs, were seeing improvement there. The other thing is you have to reconcile between stated tariffs and what we're actually able to negotiate in terms of realized tariffs. And we've got two buckets we work on, one is our own imported parts which come from largely from China, which are impacted directly, and the other ones are national brands, which we work with our supplier partners. So stated versus actually realized is a factor as well.

Robert Barry -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Got it. So just lastly. So does that mean in that context, maybe you're seeing price at zero is less of a concern to you, given you've been able to negotiate some of this deflation?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, I think what I would say is where we're at in terms of our share growth, where we're at in terms of our share growth objectives, and our share growth initiative seeing flat pricing for the quarter it doesn't get us overly exercise, as DG mentioned, from a volume basis, we grew share quite a bit At this point where we're trying to get traction on our share gain initiatives, that doesn't concern us that one quarter where price is flat. If you look at the entire year, where price cost neutral, when you adjust for the reset from the strategic writedowns and we're happy with that. It's what our objective was at the beginning of the year.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question today is coming from Josh Pokrzywinski from Morgan Stanley. Your line is now live.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Hi, good morning guys.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Morning.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

I just want to follow-up, given that we're now past kind of fully pass the price reset, just any observation with some of those customers. What percentage of kind of converted to being kind of more core customers versus those who were maybe transactional during the process, imagine you got better grasp on that today than maybe you did 6 or 12 months ago. How satisfied are you with that. And yeah, I guess we'll just leave that as the first question.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So Josh, let me -- I will answer the question and interpret it so you tell me if I'm not answering correctly. We tend to look at, with our large customers, for sure we had a lot of relationships that we're not transactional relations before, we still have a lot of those and we've expanded some of those. I think the biggest shift has been with midsize customers where we now have a whole lot more midsize customers are buying frequently, based on the price reset. And the price reset was largely to make sure we were growing across the entire customer base consistently, until we have liked the results we see with midsize customers. Still a long way to go to acquire and turn many of those customers into regular purchasing customers, but we have made great progress with midsize customers.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Got it. Yeah. And that was a mid-sized customer question.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So I think we got a picture.

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Yeah. Right. Large wouldn't make as much sense. And then I guess on the price cost dynamic from here. Is there anything that happens as a function of the calendar in terms of customers kind of reevaluating to start a year where the progression kind of post 4Q inflects or deflects one way or another? I think from a cost perspective, there is probably equal measures deflation and inflation, but probably a bit more deflation on the inputs, but just trying to understand how that conversation evolves over time on the pricing front and if there's anything that changes with the calendar flow.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

We have a long history of working with our customers to -- a lot of our contract customers still look in prices at the beginning of the year. So we got to a process that we are going through now to make sure we've got the right competitive prices and that price is always happen. So there's always a sort of beginning of the year, sort of free fit that happens and you see that in our results. Historically, that will be the same this year.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question today is coming from John Inch from Gordon Haskett. Your line is now live.

Caroline -- Gordon Haskett -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. It's Caroline dialing in for John. So, I just wanted to clarify on the 3Q gross margin dynamic, it sounded like given you said price inflation has sequentially come down, essentially all of that gross margin degradation is coming from product pricing. I guess part of it maybe you can confirm that the 5% of large accounts that still needs to get price adjusted and is that done over the quarter and then is the rest of the pricing degradation coming from more broad-based pricing adjustments?

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, it's largely done, we'll see a little bit in Q4 and then we won't have any in 2020.

Caroline -- Gordon Haskett -- Analyst

Okay. Yeah. It just sounds like I guess given the magnitude of the pricing and gross margin decrease more of that has to do with broader-based pricing adjustment. Maybe just follow-up on that point. I guess you guys have adjusted pricing since the start of the year I guess a couple of times, as you go through this exercise, are you seeing sequentially similar, well, I guess the -- ideal volume response that you would hope for or are we -- as you go through like these pricing exercise, are you starting to see throughout the year like a bit of a more diminishing return?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I think we're seeing good pricing response. Again, I'll go back to it we see -- we see a flat MRO market in the third quarter included in that flat market is a little over 1% in price, offset by a little bit over 1% in volume deterioration. We were up 2.5%, so that puts us well above 350 bps. There is also some weather issues related to the hurricanes last year that we didn't put in our prepared remarks and some government lapping differences. So, yeah, if you look at that, we're very happy with our volume response.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I would just add that, if you think about some of the pricing dynamic we -- Tom talked about this, we have -- we talked about being price cost neutral before the reset for the year, we are effectively where we expect to be in aggregate. And we are careful with pricing changes all the time but we're very careful not to disrupt customers with large customers in particular with changing prices around. So, we are a little bit more carefully in time to change with large customers. But overall, we've seen the exact response we expected this year.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question today is coming from Adam Uhlman from Cleveland Research Company. Your line is now live.

Adam Uhlman -- Cleveland Research -- Analyst

Hey, good morning guys.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hi, good morning.

Adam Uhlman -- Cleveland Research -- Analyst

Had a few questions on Zoro. I guess, which we expect the incremental investment spend to wrap up. Are we fully lapping that as we head into the first quarter and so expect profitability to recover there early in the year, is this going to take a little bit more time?

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So we expect that and we expect profitability to recover some in the first quarter, we did start investing pretty heavily in the first quarter of this year and it will just grow from profitability it grow from there. So we will get some improvement in the first quarter, is our expectation.

Adam Uhlman -- Cleveland Research -- Analyst

Okay. And then, of the 800,000 SKUs that that have been added so far this year and as we add some more going forward, I'm just wondering if you could comment about if the gross margin profile of the business is changing? How you look at the categories that you're adding in, is that more of a build-out of the existing one or are there new product categories that are getting you into higher or lower margin categories?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, so I mean -- I think that we are -- first of all, we are adding whole bunch of categories that we haven't had before, so there is a mix of adding to categories and expanding the often existing categories. In general, we are creating a fairly distinct value proposition for Zoro, and Zoro will become less reliant on the Grainger supply chain moving forward. And so most of those products will be drop ship, so for the financials, the GP is lower when you have drop shipped items, so is the expense. So, you'll see that impact the GP slightly over time but we expect most of those items that we're adding, we talk about 10 million over the next 3 years to 5 years, we expect most of those items to be third party ship. We're not going to be stocking those at Grainger.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question today is coming from Chris Dankert from Longbow Research. Your line is now live.

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Hi, thanks for taking my question. You guys have given some really great color on gross margin, I guess kind of moving down to SG&A, typically we see a bit of a step-up in the fourth quarter here, but your reiteration of the guidance suggests, maybe you can hold that flat in the fourth quarter, is that the right way to be thinking about SG&A and just maybe some of that how is on the puts and takes that are in that line?

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I think you're thinking about it the right way. Year-to-date, we're on a total company level, we're 70 bps a favorable for SG&A, we expect that percentage to increase for the entire year. We do have a favorable lap related to variable compensation, in addition to just a number of other cost productivity ideas and implementation that will hit in Q4.

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you. And then thinking about some of the roll back of the investment in the other business in Zoro and MonotaRO, I think you guys had called out rolling back the vast majority of that in 2020, is that still the plan?

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, that's still the plan Chris. If you think about it, a number of the investments and then system investments, so we're all in line with the new product information system, for example, we get through those this year and those do not repeat next year. So we have most of the investments behind us, we have added people analytics talent, marketing talent that will remain, obviously, but a lot of the investments, sort of, kind of one timer's and they're going to be done.

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

And as you saw in the charts, we're really happy with the sales growth of both the Zoro and MonotaRO. MonotaRO on a constant currency, local currency basis was up over 23% and Zoro was up big double-digits. So very happy with that.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question today is coming from Justin Bergner from G.Research. Your line is now live.

Justin Bergner -- G.research -- Analyst

Good morning, DG, Good morning, Tom.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Justin Bergner -- G.research -- Analyst

Just quickly on Zoro, did I hear you say earlier in the call that Zoro is currently running unprofitable below break-even?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

No they're actually made money in the quarter just not as much as they will make on a ongoing run rate basis.

Justin Bergner -- G.research -- Analyst

Okay. And is any of the investment price investment or is this all mainly on the SG&A side?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

It's both, there are promotional spending which we are undertaking when we're adding new SKUs and going into new verticals.

Justin Bergner -- G.research -- Analyst

Okay.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

On a dollar basis, most of it is expense.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

As opposed to GP prices.

Justin Bergner -- G.research -- Analyst

Okay, great. My other question was just around the I guess price action you took that affected price cost in the third quarter, was that price action taken in the second quarter, such that you kind of expected the results that you ended up just reporting or it was some of that taken in the third quarter and was that all sort of to correct for some of the pricing you took in the earlier part the year with some of that more in response to current market conditions?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

It was taken in the second quarter.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question today is coming from Nigel Coe from Wolfe Research. Your line is now live.

Nigel Coe -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Yes, thanks, good morning. Wanted to just come back to the gross margin sequential guidance you gave. And certainly, when you go back in history, there is a very profound seasonal uplift in 4Q. Can you just remind us what drives that. It's just a mix impact because normally revenues are fighting down, just curious what drove that. And then the second part of that question is, with the tariffs list [Technical Issues] growth in from May onwards and then let from September. And I think you talked about 10% of your US sales [Technical Issues] I'm just curious why we're not seeing some inflationary pressures come from tariffs and perhaps that's offset by other deflation impact but maybe just address that as well. Please.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Okay. Well, let me take the first one and I might have to get you to repeat the second one, it was breaking up on our phone here. There are many levers that we can pull in terms of gross margin for Q4, why it historically goes up? Traditionally, I think what we've seen is we've seen cost inflation work its way -- work its way down throughout the year and we have better opportunities in terms of related to pricing terms, in terms of vendor rebates, customer support, those types of things which are quarter end settlements and we count those as cost obviously. Our pricing environment is fairly static throughout the year as DG mentioned, with the big pricing happening throughout the year.

So, the main driver in Q4 is really our vendor volume rebates in our customer rebates settlements that we have in Q4. And if I could get you to repeat the second question, please.

Nigel Coe -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Yeah, it's pretty just about the impact of the tariffs. The step up from 10% to 25% on the left, three tariffs which protected early May and then lift four which was I think September. And I think you previously closed a 10% of your US sales are less than [Technical Issues]. So I'm just wondering why we are not facing some inflationary pressures going into Q4, that would need to be offset with price.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

We've got part one and part two which arguably are a lower amount of our COGS, which are lapping in Q4. So we'll see less of an impact there. Q3, you're right, is moving from 10% to 25% or did move from 10% to 25% in May. Again, I will take you back to the actual stated in tariff number versus the realized. We are experiencing much less than the stated tariffs number on an actual basis, so it's hard to just look at what stated and look at the actual results. You really have to focus on the actual realized results, and our team is doing a very good job of working with our supplier partners to mitigate those increases.

Nigel Coe -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Okay, I'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question today is coming from Patrick Baumann from JPMorgan. Your line is now live.

Patrick Baumann -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Hi, DG and Tom. Thanks for taking my question. Just on the Zoro business, if you could put a finer point on, you said it's making money, is it making money this year? Is it kind of like a mid single-digit type operating margin? I know MonotaRO is in a low double digits. Just want to have a better sense of what the runway is there over the next several years. What the basis this year?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, we're not going to go into specific a breakout of Zoro, let's leave it at it's making a small amount of money this year.

Patrick Baumann -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Okay, fair enough. And then how should we think about the Louisville facility coming online in the fourth quarter year and then into next year, both from, I guess, what are your expectations for it? I guess from a market our growth, cost perspective and I know you mentioned supply chain favorability that you expect in the fourth quarter, I don't know if that's part of it, or is that something else. Just curious, any color on that?

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I think I would answer that two ways. One is, long term diluted the facility provides capacity and helpful capacity in a couple of ways. The first thing it does is it allows us to stock probably 200,000 more items in the network, because it's a very good back up for Chicago, Greenville, New Jersey, and even Louisville to some degree. So, it allows us to stock more items and have more breadth, which provides better customer experience and typically that does drive to drive growth. Thanks to the word fourth. So it gives you overnight keep delivery for items slow-moving items in the network to get to customers who need them and that's a service that we will offer to our customers.

We are working through exactly how it's to bring the building up. We're starting to receive in the fourth quarter. And we'll talk more about that in the end of the fourth quarter in terms of what we're using the building for exactly next year and how we're bringing that building up, it's huge, and it's going to take a couple of years to get the full capacity for sure that we're going to leverage that building to provide better service to customers next year and improve our cost structure bit as well. So we'll talk about that at the end.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is coming from Michael Migne from Wells Fargo. Your line is now live.

Michael McGinn -- Wells Fargo -- Analyst

Thanks a lot for the time. If I could switch gears to more of a long-term fundamental question regarding the endless assortment model? Having visited your new New Jersey DC, there was a distinct concerted effort on what shows up in a red box versus what shows up in the blue box. I'm just wondering, long-term, what kind of thresholds are you putting on the third-party market and maintain branding? Are they going to get national account freight pricing? How does that feed into your supplier rebate discussions longer-term, if you could just answer those quick questions, would e great.

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

So, we will have, as we build out the endless assortment, we will have partners that provide distinct over branding whether or not it's an acid box or a label is, is probably up for discussion at this point still. But, the idea is, we will make sure we became this overall branding. Zoro will have more ownership for its own state. It will still leverage free contracts that we have at Grainger and leverage some things at Grainger, but in general it will be more independent. The value proposition will be independent and the business was more independent.

Michael McGinn -- Wells Fargo -- Analyst

And the growth of that business, does that feed into the general Grainger supplier rebate conversation or is that something separate?

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

For stuff that we stocked jointly? It definitely will or stuff that we don't it will not.

Operator

Thank you. We've reached end of our question-and-answer session. I'd like to turn the floor back over to DG Macpherson for any further closing comments.

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Terrific. Thanks for joining us this morning. I'll just reiterate what we feel are really important about our expectations moving forward. In our US business, we feel that scale really, really matters and gaining share is incredibly important. And so our expectation is that we are going to grow revenue 340 basis points fashion in the market. We feel like we have a great opportunity to do that with a relatively stable gross profit and continuing leverage on the SG&A line going forward.

In Canada, we have improved the customer experience. We are reengaging customers in a positive way. And if we can get volume back into the business, which is our entire focus right now, we're going to be in a place to drive profitable growth.

We're excited about being able to serve them all the investments we're making, even in Zoro excited about the growth path there. And we feel really, really good about a lot of the initiatives we have and the customer experience we're providing. So appreciate the time today and look forward to talking to you soon. Thanks.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 50 minutes

Call participants:

Irene Holman -- Vice President, Investor Relations

DG Macpherson -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Tom Okray -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

David Manthey -- Robert W. Baird & Co -- Analyst

Ryan Merkel -- William Blair -- Analyst

Christopher Glynn -- Oppenheimer -- Analyst

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Robert Barry -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Josh Pokrzywinski -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Caroline -- Gordon Haskett -- Analyst

Adam Uhlman -- Cleveland Research -- Analyst

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Justin Bergner -- G.research -- Analyst

Nigel Coe -- Wolfe Research -- Analyst

Patrick Baumann -- JPMorgan -- Analyst

Michael McGinn -- Wells Fargo -- Analyst

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