September 2006 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Melissa Grant: She's in Hot Water

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"Most people don't think about their water heater until they don't have hot water," says Melissa Grant.

As demand planning manager at Rheem Water Heating, Montgomery, Ala., Grant spends her days figuring out how many people will turn their thoughts in that direction, and how their visions of soothing baths and spotless dishes will translate into sales.

Assisted by a demand planning analyst, and working closely with her company's marketing and sales departments, Grant creates forecasts for all the heaters Rheem builds in Montgomery and at two plants in Mexico.

She also stays in touch with the product development group to keep informed about the products Rheem will offer in the future, so she can gauge how those new releases will affect demand.

Another part of the job is working with the operations department to help translate the latest forecast into a manufacturing plan.

"It's a daily balancing act among our plants," Grant says. "Part of my responsibility is giving the plants an overall guideline on how they need to staff, and what they need to produce to support the demand plan."

To accomplish this, Grant leads the company's Sales and Operations Planning efforts, a monthly process to balance the demand and supply sides for the coming 18 months.

"This planning affords our organization the chance to look out and determine where our challenges and/or opportunities exist and address them proactively," she says.

Rheem sells its residential and commercial water heaters to retail chains, original equipment manufacturers, and wholesale distributors.

To help predict demand for the company's products, Grant uses demand planning software from Demand Management Inc., a supply chain management software provider based in St. Louis. She also relies heavily on spreadsheets. "I could not live without Excel," she says.

For a demand planning manager at Rheem, the primary job challenge lies in trying to understand the mature, highly price-sensitive market for water heaters, which have become almost a commodity. Next comes "understanding the influences on the market, such as changing demographics, larger houses, and different dynamics in the housing market itself," Grant says.

Grant and her colleagues conduct a broad annual review of the market, then follow its fluctuations throughout the year. For Grant, that means a daily stop at an online news site, "looking for economic activity and the latest reports from the government on housing starts," she says.

Another challenge has been persuading colleagues to put faith in her predictions. "Developing credibility is the toughest challenge I've faced at Rheem," Grant says.

Her primary tactic for gaining the confidence of those who rely on her forecasts is good communication. "The key to success is being able to back up numbers with information, rather than just throwing out some numbers and asking people to trust me," she says.

"Look at my track record," she adds. "Look at what we forecast would happen, and the impact that has made on our business."

The Big Questions

What do you do when you're not at work?

I spend time with my husband and two children. They're both active in sports so we go to their events to support them. I'm also on the board of the East Montgomery Seminoles, a youth football and cheerleading league, as well as the Central Alabama Chapter of APICS, the Association for Operations Management.

Ideal dinner companion?

My great-grandparents. I would try to get a sense of what their life was like, the struggle they had, how the world was then and how it has changed.

What's in your briefcase?

My laptop, pictures of my kids, a book I just started to read, and too much paperwork!

If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

Photography or videography.

What do you find most satisfying about your work?

Knowing that I'm a part of the organization going forward and influencing change.

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