October 2011 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Katie Reuland: Down to Business 

Tags: Education & Careers

Katie Reuland

Katie Reuland is operations director at Down, Etc., a San Francisco-based firm that makes and markets bedding items such as down comforters, pillows, featherbeds, and robes. The company markets its products primarily to upscale and boutique hotels in the United States, Ireland, France, Italy, and Panama.

Responsibilities: Maintaining inventory; managing a third-party distribution partner; working with contract manufacturers to develop new products; coordinating transportation; and managing order processing and customer service.

Experience: Management trainee/supply chain analyst, Toys 'R' Us; supply chain analyst, Cooking.com; supply chain manager, Robinson Salter.

Education: Penn State University, B.S., Business Logistics, 1998.

Down, Etc., is a small company, so I play a lot of roles. I manage the inventory we keep at our third-party distribution center, and serve as liaison to our service provider there. I work on new product development with our manufacturing partners in China, a role that includes creating customized products such as robes, slippers, and bags imprinted with company logos.

I also coordinate logistics for our products manufactured in China and India, consolidating orders to build full containers and ensuring they are shipped correctly. I oversee an order processor and a picker-packer, and I manage customer service.

One of the hardest aspects of my job is working with our manufacturing partners to maintain quality. The best way to prevent unwanted changes to our products is through direct communication, which is why my boss and I will probably visit China soon. You can e-mail until you're blue in the face, but little gets solved until you talk in person.

Communication is an ongoing challenge. Over the years, experience has taught me the importance of following up. Even if I have a phone conversation and everything seems to be resolved, I always send a written recap. Then I don't have to rely on memory to understand what happened. If other people have different recollections of our conversation, they can respond to my summary, and we can continue the discussion until we end up on the same page.

I'll soon face a new challenge as our company moves to a building that we recently bought in South San Francisco. We currently have just an office and a showroom in a rented storefront downtown. The new building includes distribution space, where we want to keep some of our smaller products. We need to decide which items to store there, based on how they flow, then configure the facility with racking and other equipment.

One aspect of my job that gives me great satisfaction is to oversee a large installation for a hotel and ensure everything goes exactly right. To help hotels minimize the effort it takes to install the products they buy from us, we load containers so they're ready for the rooms. Instead of filling a carton with eight pillows, for example, we fill it with the four pillows that go on a bed, as well as the mattress pad, featherbed, and other components. We also color-code the boxes so the customer can tell, for example, which boxes are for the king rooms and which are for the queen rooms.

It takes a lot of work to make all that happen perfectly. We've sent as many as 40 containers to a hotel at one time, working from the United States to ensure the product is loaded correctly in China. When it goes right, we get nothing but praise. We save hotels a lot of time and money in the long run, and they're so appreciative.

The Big Questions

Scariest career decision?

Leaving the East Coast to follow my boss from Toys 'R' Us to a new opportunity with a dot-com in California. I was 25, didn't know anyone there, and was taking a big risk going to a dot-com. The company went under in less than one year, but I stayed in California to work at Cooking.com, where I learned a lot.

How do you recharge your batteries?

I love cooking, watching sports, and listening to music.

Alter-ego dream job?

Food critic. I went to cooking school, thinking I wanted to leave the crazy world of logistics. But I found out the cooking world is even crazier. I don't rule out cooking for a living somedayprobably catering.

Is there something you love to do, even though it's not your particular talent?

I love to paint, but I am really bad at it.

What's on your Bucket List?

I want to jump out of a plane, eat my way through Europe, visit the Great Wall of China, and own a home.