Executive Spotlight: Courtney Chance, Senior Director of Supply Chain & Quality Assurance, Nothing Bundt Cakes
SCS: Tell us about the roles you've had and how you got to where you are now.
CC: I've been in food service my entire career but fell in love with it as a bartender at T.G.I. Fridays while studying for my undergrad. As I worked my way through the restaurant, I took every opportunity to gain a little bit more insight into operations and, after graduation, landed at the T.G.I. Fridays corporate office supporting international and domestic distribution. I had a fantastic leader who assisted me in discovering my passion for supply chain, which led me to manage multiple commodity-based procurement categories. T.G.I. Fridays was a great place to learn the ins and outs of a multilevel supply chain, but after nine years, I was ready to make a move. I took on elevating roles at Gatti's Pizza and later the Le Duff Group, where I managed the la Madeleine, Mimi's Cafe, and Brioche Doree procurement teams. Then, 5 years ago, I was happily recruited to the Nothing Bundt Cakes supply chain team, where I'm currently leading the brand's procurement and quality assurance teams and supporting our self-distribution arm, SHIPP Distribution.
SCS: We can't have a supply chain conversation without bringing up COVID and the impact of significant disruption. How would you say your job has changed in the last few years, what have you learned, and how do you see things looking forward in your role?
CC: The most obvious change for me is the difference in the working lifestyle. Rather than in-person and in-office interactions, it's now almost exclusively virtual. Not to overlook the importance of in-person interactions, but I believe communication and business throughput have improved because meetings can be quickly scheduled, decisions made, and issues resolved much faster than before COVID. As it relates to insights and opportunities, at least for myself and I think for fellow supply chain leaders, we've become far more strategic in the last two years. Due to vast supply chain disruptions, we've been challenged to think past the conventional R.F.I. and R.F.P. models. We're now strategically aligning with key suppliers rather than sending out bids to a slew of possible players, allowing greater trust and collaboration with our major partners. I also think we're asking more complex questions and digging deeper into agreements, ultimately permitting us to attack challenges side-by-side with our suppliers rather than taking a one-sided approach. For example, we’re identifying what the internal and external critical raw materials or products are so that when a challenge arises, we're prepared with either a pre-approved sub or at least a course of action. Lastly, maintaining continuous conversation, checking in for more frequent market insights, and confirming production forecasts with key manufacturers have helped the last couple of years.
SCS: How are you managing supply, availability, and pricing uncertainty along with the idea that we're never going back to the way it was before COVID?
CC: We're managing pricing by aligning with our partners and setting the expectations at the initiation of our agreements. Over the last two years, we've considered temporary product surcharges other than overall pricing increases, which has helped us maintain a starting point and move towards a reversal target or baseline. We also anticipated pricing would take a turn during the pandemic, so we made an early call to invest in our inventory and supply. That way, we'd already secured many of our business needs when the lead times were extending, and the manufacturing capacity was tight. The investment gave us the luxury of time so we could thoughtfully forecast and procure our goods rather than trying to find available alternatives, likely at a much higher market cost. From a brand perspective in today's environment, we're focusing on shifting the mindset to seek continuous improvement in traffic-driving opportunities rather than looking for product cost savings or potentially reducing quality – something we would not see as an option since our brand is quality-driven. Also, we're working with our supplier partners to seek innovative purchasing opportunities on products that may be less volatile and develop promotional flavors around those items. And we're aligning with our cross-functional leaders to simplify the operational complexity or consider cost shifts on things like labor and back-of-the-house simplification versus the actual cost of goods.
SCS: That sounds technology driven. How much tech are you using to manage your day-to-day?
CC: Technology plays a significant role at Nothing Bundt Cakes. We've recently upgraded our ERP and bakery ordering systems, which has helped provide greater insight into the sales mix, enhancing our demand planning resources. Last month, we also launched a new guest-facing website that has improved our overall guest experience. From a day-to-day perspective, I've primarily leveraged our existing I.T. platforms; we introduced Microsoft Teams in early 2020 to streamline internal conversations and allow instant feedback and responses. I enjoy having the overall information retrieval capabilities at our fingertips.
SCS: So shifting gears just a little bit, apart from experience what skills do you see that can help a person the most in developing their career in supply chain? How can a young person or a student of supply chain stand out and get noticed?
CC: Well, in my experience, networking has always helped me, not only from a peer perspective but also by incorporating past professors or educators and supplier partners into my network. Establishing a network of individuals and mentors you trust for professional advice has served me well. Even when I wasn't the best subject matter expert, I could lean on my network and find answers to gain the necessary knowledge and make appropriate decisions. Also, just simply being open to being uncomfortable and spending the time to go to conferences, networking events, meeting people, not hiding behind emails, and picking up the phone. Having a live conversation can help when developing a career. Especially today, when face-to-face interactions are less common, a simple live chat can help you stand out.
SCS: That's great advice. How do you see your job in supply chain changing in the near future?.
CC: There are a few major things that I have I've noticed recently. Manufacturing is changing in general, especially domestically. Given that we've felt dramatic port delays and increasing international shipping costs, I anticipate that large companies will start relying more on domestic manufacturing, whether for a finished product or raw materials, and then shaping their strategies to bring the overall production capacity closer to their consumer. I also think there will be more influence on supply chain risk management and increased transparency. Nothing Bundt Cakes is now seeking visibility into our suppliers' first, second, or even third-tier suppliers to highlight any potential downstream issues and allow for more productive and proactive conversations so that we can make decisions faster. Lastly, I hope that the recent increased visibility into the supply chain across the board shines a light on the importance of supply chain as a valuable, functional team or department, maybe even bringing more supply chain professionals into the C-suite. Supply chain leaders often have market foresight into the business that could create high rate of return opportunities, just like other revenue generating roles.