Samantha Darnell, BHP ’13, is an eCommerce Inventory Analyst for H-E-B Grocery. Samantha triple majored in BHP, Supply Chain Management, and Spanish Literature. She has used her supply chain management knowledge in her role to guide vendors, work with various teams and analyze inventory. H-E-B is currently recruiting students for 2016 summer internships. Internship postings can be found on the H-E-B website until September 25. BHP will also be hosting a coffee chat with Samantha on September 8. Register for that event here.
What specific projects are you working on as an inventory analyst?
I’m currently working on the eCommerce project which is looking at different ways customers could order product online, potentially as alternatives to the traditional trip to the grocery store. On the supply chain side, I’m helping to design the systems and processes that could support this project. It’s exciting to get in on a project on the ground floor and create processes I might use in the future. The grocery retail industry is changing quickly so we never have a boring day.
Previously, I managed inventory and forecasts for several categories including cosmetics, skin and sun care, and chips, cookies, and crackers. We rotated regularly so inventory analysts could be exposed to different types of products. Inventory analysts work closely with the buying team, that is responsible for meeting with the suppliers and determining which items we will sell. Analysts then ensure that those items stay stocked.
How does your role support the company as a whole?
Supply chain and inventory analysts’ goal is to have the right products at the right place at the right time. In doing this, we are continually trying to maximize our in stock levels at our stores and minimize our inventory, which keeps our operating costs low. In addition to in-stock levels, we also plan for promotions and special events as well as new and discontinued item transitions.
Has working in supply chain been what you expected or different?
One of the first things I learned about supply chain in the real world was how much our modern supply chain relies on technology. In school, there is a distinction between Supply Chain and MIS majors, but realistically that distinction is much less clear. As supply chains continue to become more and more complicated, supply chain professionals are going to have to rely more on technology and become comfortable learning, and potentially helping to design, new systems.
What are the unique challenges of working in inventory for the grocery industry?
The first challenge is customer expectation, myself included. If I walk into a grocery store, I want every item on my list to be in stock, and I get frustrated if it isn’t. Customers expect consistently high in stock levels. Perishable products provide additional challenges; we must forecast as accurately as possible for products with shorter lives. H-E-B tries to not keep a lot of excess inventory, especially on perishable products. If there is an ice storm in the Northeast and our orders are delayed, our supply chain has to be nimble and flexible in our planning to account for these unforeseen delays.
When you go grocery shopping now, are you looking at everything in the store through a different lens, knowing what has gone into getting the products on the shelves?
Definitely. My trips to H-E-B are about twice as long as they were before I started working for H-E-B. I like to look at the categories that I am managing to see how the shelves look, and to see if we are in stock or if there is anything out of stock that is a surprise to me. Sometimes I write down products that are out of stock that I didn’t think would be. Even though I know how hard it is to get products to the shelves, I still get frustrated when I can’t buy something I am looking for.
You completed an internship with H-E-B while you were in school. What about that experience led you to accept a full-time position with the company?
As an intern, even though it was only a ten-week program, I had a crash course in the H-E-B supply chain practices. H-E-B has a large supply chain organization with many different facets. As a student, I didn’t understand how complicated a retail supply chain was until I experienced it through my internship. I had such a positive experience, because it is an incredibly supportive culture. H-E-B really does have an “open door policy” even though the partners and leaders are very busy. As an intern, I had exposure to any partner or leader that I wanted to interact with, and that experience was invaluable.
I also felt that my work and recommendations were respected and that the leaders paid attention to the work I did even though I was just an intern. Several of the recommendations that I made were actually implemented. This has continued in my work there. I have been able to move around and work on different projects. The fact that I am able to have this experience with the ecommerce team is pretty awesome.
What do you love most about your job and about working for H-E-B?
There are so many opportunities with this company, and my leaders have always made it very clear that they are invested in my long term career goals as well as my personal goals. It is also great to work for a company that is so well respected in the community. When I tell people I work for H-E-B, most people say, “I love H-E-B! That is the best grocery store.” H-E-B does so much for the community, and it is nice to be part of such a positive work environment. Partners work hard, but work-life balance is also very important to the company. I have always felt that from the top-down it is expected that partners should maintain a good work-life balance.