Podcast: A Day In The Life of a Buyer

By Published On: March 23, 2023

Hosts: Rodney Apple

In This Episode:

We explore the role of a Buyer with Sarah VanDermyden! Currently, Sarah serves as a Buyer II for MasTec Industrial. Sarah answers questions about her current role related to:

  • What are your day-to-day position duties?
  • What do you enjoy most about the position?
  • How can you advance from your position?

Who is Sarah Vandermyden?

Sarah VanDermyden has been a Buyer in the Denver area since 2016 and has procured for various industries including mobility, HVAC, beauty, & construction. She is passionate about logistics, providing the utmost customer service, and having transparent communication as a coworker & employee. Procurement was an opportunity that fell into her lap after an unexpected job loss and she hit the ground running in this field. Her mother has been in procurement over 30 years so going down this path was a matter of legacy & pride at the time. Sarah is currently living in Denver with her husband and 2 cats.
[00:01:00] Rodney Apple: Welcome to the Supply Chain Careers podcast, A Day in the Life of a Supply Chain Professional series. Very excited to welcome Sarah VanDermyden to the program. Today we’re gonna talk a little bit about procurement. So thank you so much, Sarah, for joining us today.

[00:01:15] Sarah VanDermyden: Thank you so much for having me, Rodney. I’m really excited to be here.

[00:01:19] Rodney Apple: Awesome. We’ll go ahead and get started then. Sarah, I’d love to learn how you got started in this particular field of procurement and what led you to pursue this type of role.

[00:01:30] Sarah VanDermyden: Yeah. So, funny enough, I was not ever planning on being a buyer. I fell into it. My mom has been a buyer for over three decades now, so I was aware of the role for pretty much my whole life. And she always kind of put it as I spend other people’s money and I was like, that’s cool. That sounds fun. But I saw a position open for a buyer or purchasing clerk, I believe it was, and I applied and I went and interviewed and I got the job. So I kind of fell into it, which funnily enough, also my, that’s sort of how my mom got her start as a buyer. She just applied to the position and they accepted her, and she learned everything she knew from this older woman that she worked with very closely, and I’ve been doing it for about six years now. I went from buying cell phones to HVAC parts and equipment to raw materials, to engineered products for switchboards and PDC, and now I’m buying for an industrial construction site. So, it’s a wild ride for sure.

[00:02:34] Rodney Apple: It sounds like you have had a good run and have cut across a few different industries and then product segments as well. What are some of those core hard and soft skills that you feel are very important for the types of roles that you’ve been in?

[00:02:49] Sarah VanDermyden: Sure. So I think a big part of my role is the attention to detail, because you’re dealing with not just large sums of money, but sometimes very highly technical information.

Sometimes you’re dealing across multiple parties, whether it be engineering, scheduling, the project management, the client themselves. There’s all different kinds of moving pieces. So you also have to like puzzles in a way, and things that are always moving and, and you’re always kind of trying to catch up or you’re waiting around. There’s a lot of hurry up and waiting and procurement. Right. But, when there’s a lot going on, there’s a lot going on. But definitely having a sense of creativity and curiosity around wanting to learn the industry you’re working in as well. I’ve picked up a lot of different things from previous industries that helped me now in my current industry that I didn’t think would be applicable. So, you never know what you’re gonna take with you from one role to another.

As far as hard skills would be, it’s a lot of administrative work, so definitely staying organized, keeping on top of your day-to-day tasks. It’s a lot of following up and it’s a lot of record keeping in a lot of ways, to make sure that you’re verified what you’re buying, and you got the right approvals and you have the right invoices and everything lines up correctly. So definitely a lot of organization and very, very effective communication. Sometimes you are trying to get something out the door really quickly and you need to let people know exactly what you need, how you want it done, and when you need a buy and you don’t need to dilly dally around it.

You have to know how to deal with a lot of personalities, you know? Every industry I’ve worked in, it’s multiple generations of people, multiple backgrounds. You never know who you’re on the phone with and it’s a lot of phone conversations, right? Cuz you’re usually in an office and working with the warehouse or site or whatever it may be. So, being able to effectively communicate with multiple people, understand how they communicate, understand what’s driving them in their role and how you can better help them.

A lot of administrative roles are kind of overlooked and I think procurement is one of them because it’s just buying stuff, but you do get to interact with so many different teams and you get to learn so many different industries or different ways of doing things simply because the job is so, like everyone needs to spend their money, it’s never gonna be something that goes out of business.

[00:05:22] Rodney Apple: In your role, what are some of the common goals, objectives that you’re tasked with?

[00:05:27] Sarah VanDermyden: Yeah, so in my current role, this is the highest level of buying I have done personally because it is industrial construction, so it’s a lot more technical reviews and things like this, so, a lot of what I’m working on now are specific packages. Currently, I’m working on a very large industrial site and that’s following up with vendors. It’s comparing notes, it’s communicating cut sheets or data sheets between engineering for review or in verifying pricing and lead times via commercial bids and getting commercial bid evaluations and acquiring the correct approvals from management and from the site team as well as the client. I assist in some training. I’ve been in my current position for about six months, so as we get new team members, I do help them with learning the programs, understanding who to go to for whatever they need, if I am unable to help them.

I’m currently also involved in a project that’s finalizing their construction, so I’m doing final change orders on POs that were previously written, and I’m updating weekly reports for the main project that I’m on, so that engineering is updated, scheduling is updated. Safety’s updated. Everyone knows as well as the client is updated on where my packages are, if I’ve been able to cut a PO, if I’m waiting on approvals, whatever it is I’m, I may need at that moment. So, it’s a lot of little tasks that kind of culminate into one big movement of a PO finalizing and going out the door.

[BREAK at 7:00] [00:07:25] Rodney Apple: You mentioned some of the stakeholders you engage with. Could you give us just a baseline of who you interface with, just in a typical stakeholder internally and externally.

[00:07:35] Sarah VanDermyden: Sure. So, I work with, our procurement team, actually is I think it’s almost 30 people now, which is very exciting cause we’ve been building our team, all the people I work with are relatively new, so building the team has been very exciting. Day-to-day I work with the senior buyer a lot. I assist him with his POs, writing them, and taking on whatever he’s doesn’t have any bandwidth for, buyers who are, I’m a buyer too, and there’s another senior buyer I work with, and he’s a little bit newer than I am, so I work with him some on the various projects he’s been assigned to and helping him, guiding him through the, the different programs we use in folder structures.

I work with our invoicing team, our AP team a lot. We have a biweekly meeting to go over any issues we may have with current invoices. The main project I work on has just gotten started, so luckily that invoice list is not Cuckoo bananas yet, but it will be trying to stay ahead of it. And the engineers, I’m very close with two of the field engineers, and they help me make sure I’m buying the right stuff. Very important to have good relationships with the people on the ground. As well as the material manager. He is the person who makes sure that everything’s there. It’s not broken, it’s correct. And it’s where it needs to go. I also assist with the onsite buyers who have been obviously buying stuff more on the day-to-day needs for the site.

Who else do I talk to all the time? Obviously the vendors, different sales reps. It’s nice to have a dedicated rep, but sometimes I don’t feel it’s always a benefit, depending on that person or their level of understanding of our needs. It can be sometimes a detriment. I prefer to have multiple people. I’ve always had the best results with the vendor when there’s at least two or three people on the team that I can talk to, plus a manager for when things go sideways, which they will and they do.

[00:09:34] Rodney Apple: What about the fun aspects? What’s some of the things that you enjoy most about working in the procurement and as a buyer?

[00:09:42] Sarah VanDermyden: Yeah, so definitely spending other people’s money. Like I said, that’s right at the top. That’s just like, I remember cutting my first million-dollar PO and I was like, that’s pretty cool, man. That feels pretty nice. Definitely being able to talk to different people. I’m very personable and I like learning from different people and just kind of being a bit of a chatty Cathy. That’s how I got on this podcast. So, love that. I definitely, when things come together, when there’s an issue and it’s been an issue for like two weeks or a month or however long and it gets resolved and it’s okay and everything’s fine, it’s just the best or like something you didn’t think was gonna work, works.

Cuz there’s a lot of creativity behind and problem solving with procurement, which I think people dismiss with administrative roles like I was saying before. Because you do run into these issues where it’s like, I don’t know how I’m going to get this thing, but they need it yesterday, you know, which everyone needs everything yesterday. And sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Which is an interesting part of the job is, also understanding when things are an emergency and when things are being blown out of proportion.

[00:10:52] Rodney Apple: What are those typical challenges that you run into? We know there’s lead time issues, you can’t find the product, But, what are some of the others that you commonly run into?

[00:11:00] Sarah VanDermyden: I ran into one as I was logging onto this podcast actually, because I was finishing up, I was waiting on a req, a requisition from a site. Obviously delays, lead times. I have a lot of issues currently with engineering, changing designs last minute. Keeping vendor relationships copacetic. When there’s billing issues, when there’s shipping issues, when there’s interpersonal issues, between the clients and the vendor or the site and the vendor or whatever it is. That can definitely be a challenge and I have to pull out the, my most charming charms, and be the most business professional person with just like the biggest customer service smile on my face. And I’m not even, I’m actually the customer. I think those are a lot of the issues.

[00:11:45] Rodney Apple: Yeah. You work with customers, but you are also the customer to the vendor. So that’s something important to pick out. Sarah, you’ve worked across, I’ve got your LinkedIn profile pulled up, so you’ve worked across quite a few industries, and which ones have you enjoyed the most? Which ones did you come in walking the door and it was vastly different just to kind of paint that perspective, how it, the job might can differ a little bit.

[00:12:07] Sarah VanDermyden: My first buying job was a startup technically still, so that’s always an interesting kind of chaotic, was very fun, actually met my husband there. I moved on to my next role, an established HVAC manufacturer distribution company, that had been around for 50 years. And just that stark difference of going from a startup someplace that’s been around for a long time, that has a very clear and set idea of what they’re doing and how they do it. It was definitely very nice to have that stability, but it also got kind of boring because I was just buying the same fans for the same five branches every Tuesday. And moving onto my next position, which was the main raw materials buyer for organic based cleaning products and skincare cosmetic production company. That I very much enjoyed because I am very interested in skincare. And beauty. So, learning more of that, and ingredients based was really fascinating and it opened my eyes to how things actually work behind the scenes with some of my favorite products actually. I was buying the materials for products I was buying, and being in that environment taught me a lot about what is gonna be acceptable for me and what isn’t as far as management things like this.

[00:13:36] Rodney Apple: And that kinda leads to the next question too, like career paths. From your perspective, what are some of the common career paths that you feel people can go into from a buyer role?

[00:13:47] Sarah VanDermyden: Yeah, I actually called my mom to make sure I knew what her role was now. Cause I was like, besides the people I work with, I’m not sure, but I have seen a lot of buyers go into consulting down the road. And my mom currently is a contract specialist within procurement. So, she previously was an expeditor. And different varying levels of buyer. And talk about industries. She’s worked, finance, solar, entertainment. She’s done all types of stuff. So, it’s definitely something you can move all around in, which is nice. But I feel that the main one that is such a big jump would be consulting cuz you can consult on not just buying, you can consult on the communications, you can consult on how the whole process is of buying, how you’re vetting your vendors, how you’re interacting with your vendors. There’s all types of ways you can consult for different industries.

[00:14:38] Rodney Apple: That is true. And you’ve got the big tier one consulting firms down to small boutique size that help companies, whether it’s, like you said, improve their process and their methodologies. And I think the big thing we’ve seen is digitizing that procurement function to where the systems add a lot of value. So yeah, we see that too. And then from there, really, I think it’s moving, up the ladder, management roles.

What would you advise to those that are seeking out maybe their first buyer job? Because we know this job exists in most industries, if not all industries, you’ve got small companies that need people to handle purchasing and the large companies will have a small army of people. But anything you’d like to advise just from your perspective and your learnings over the years?

[00:15:23] Sarah VanDermyden: Yeah, I think my biggest piece of advice is to just go for it, for sure. Always apply to the job if you want to. Don’t let experience, education, most importantly, yourself, get in the way. There’s always a way to market yourself with the skills that you have, even if you’ve only worked at a Wendy’s, to be able to land yourself in an entry level role as a buyer. It’s something that is needed across all industries. It’s something, like you said, it can range from mom and pop to an army of buyers. It really, it is something that anyone can do. It’s just not something that everyone is gonna like to do.

So, if you have any kind of inkling of a job where you can still be creative, have a stable career, be able to grow into different roles, if you want to be able to touch different industries, if you want to be able to work from home. I have worked hard to be able to get a remote position, and that has been pretty great. It’s definitely more normalized after Covid, but always taking that leap and just trusting yourself. I have decided to not go to college and that has not hindered my career at all. If anything, it has made me a little more boisterous to know that I am just as capable as someone who was college educated.

[00:16:46] Rodney Apple: Well, thank you so much, Sarah. This has been a wonderful conversation. You’ve given us a strong day in the life of a buyer, we appreciate you helping us give the real-world perspective of what it’s like to work in the buyer capacity. And, we thank you for your time.

[00:17:01] Sarah VanDermyden: Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.