WESCO International this summer agreed to acquire one of the larger independent safety products distributors, Conney Safety Products, with $85 million in annual sales.

WESCO does not break out the percent of sales it has in safety products in its annual report, but in a news release the distributor said this acquisition would “significantly strengthen” WESCO’s safety portfolio. WESCO had $6.1 billion in sales in 2011.

The bottom line continues to be more outsiders buying their way into safety distribution. More distributors, large and small, have added safety products as complementary product lines. Gases and welding supplies distributor Airgas, for one, has an entire division dedicated to safety products. Grainger has also targeted safety as a key growth area.

Distributors expanding into safety recognize that customers need a higher level of support and expertise in categories such as fall protection and respiratory protection. This has resulted in some distributors hiring and training safety specialists and add services specific to safety.

The pressure is on independent safety distribution specialists to expand their service offerings and focus on communicating their value propositions even more clearly.

It’s no surprise, given these trends, that the Qualified Safety Sales Professional (QSSP) training program for distributor and manufacturer sales rep, product managers, and marketing personnel continues to sell out its twice yearly one-week course.