November 2013 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Mara Gonzalez: Import Expert

Tags: Education & Careers, Import

Mara Gonzalez, director of purchasing, Vino del Sol

Mara Gonzalez is director of purchasing at Vino del Sol, a specialist in Argentinean wines that also markets wines from California, Chile, Japan, and New Zealand. Based in Arlington, Va., Gonzalez has served in her current position since 2011.

Responsibilities: Overseeing the entire supply chain, with work focused on purchasing, administration, and regulatory compliance.

Experience: Assistant to divisional merchandise manager, junior buyer, buyer—softlines division, Walmart Argentina; divisional merchandise manager, textiles, Metro Supermercados; purchasing agent, director of administration, director of purchasing and logistics, Billington Imports; director of operations, Emerald Wines, a division of Winebow Inc.; director of purchasing, Winebow Inc.; replenishment manager—new stores group, Total Wine & More.

Education: Lic. international relations (equivalent to MA in international relations), Universidad del Belgrano, Argentina, 1994.


When I first moved to the United States from Argentina, I lived in Los Angeles and worked for Billington Imports, a wine company. Although I wasn't an expert, I had recently lived in the Argentine province that produces most of the country's wine, so I knew enough about the industry to pick up what I needed to learn.

Today, at Vino del Sol, I work closely with suppliers, helping them anticipate demand so they can plan production and procure dry goods for packaging.

At the same time, I work with our customers, tracking their needs and keeping an eye on the sales programs they have scheduled. I coordinate the company's efforts to ensure we place our purchase orders in time, and that our orders arrive at our distributors' warehouses when needed.

With many variables to juggle, and all kinds of factors that can cause delays, it's a challenge to support high-volume programs at big retail chains. Recently, for instance, our suppliers in Argentina were having trouble getting paper for labels and cardboard for packaging. They also faced export documentation issues.

On top of that, it was still winter in Argentina. With the pass across the Andes closed sporadically, it was hard to know whether trucks could get through. Then Chile celebrated a national holiday, which shut the ports there from Thursday through Monday. Those kinds of logistical issues can add a week or two—sometimes more—to a shipment.

In anticipation of those types of delays, I try to build extra time into our schedules. But when a customer places a rush order, we don't have the luxury of a 60- or 90-day lead time.

In those situations, I use inventory from our warehouse in California to cover as much as possible. If there isn't enough product in the pipeline from overseas, we immediately expedite replenishment for the unexpected spike.

When I joined Vino del Sol in 2011, I suggested we use a business intelligence tool called Diver, from Dimensional Insight, to gain better visibility into our operations. My boss agreed, and put me in charge of implementing the solution.

I had become a power user of the Diver solution in a previous job, but I'm certainly not an information technology professional. Nevertheless, I worked with the vendor to input all the necessary data into the system and configure our customized reports.

I also worked with our customers to link them into the system. It was a mega project, and I'm extremely proud of how it turned out. The system has brought us a deeper understanding of our business, allowing us to gain any view we need of our day-to-day activities.

Now we're in the middle of a three- to six-month project to reorganize the company's operations. Vino del Sol is growing extremely fast—we've doubled our size in the past few years. We're updating all our processes to fit our new structure and our current volume.

The Big Questions

What might we be surprised to learn about you?

As a child in Argentina, I spoke German at home before I spoke Spanish, and I went to a German school. Also, I'm an amateur astrologer and tarot card reader.

What would you like to receive as a surprise gift?

An open plane ticket to go anywhere I wish.

What's your favorite way to procrastinate?

Surfing the Web and reading interesting articles.

What movie could you watch one million times without getting tired of it?

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is the only movie I've seen more than three times.