News Column

Competition Is Crucial to Supplier Development Program

February 5, 2013

Staff -- HispanicBusiness

Entrepreneur Paredes Cenia
Cenia Paredes

It's been two weeks since Hilda Solis left her position as U.S. Secretary of Labor, where she advocated training displaced workers, supporting veterans of war, leading the marketplace toward clean-energy jobs and backing the president's health-care initiatives.

In a column she penned shortly after her term ended, Ms. Solis invoked memories of growing up in La Puente, Calif. The first Hispanic woman to serve as Secretary of Labor wrote about the importance of helping others achieve success through initiative and development support.

"We don't do what we do for the money," Ms. Solis wrote. "We do it because public service is the very best way to make your own, unique contribution to the world."

Although's 2013 Top 25 Supplier Diversity companies are focused on profits and margins, their SD development programs reflect efforts to reach the same communities to which Ms. Solis refers.

Shawn Outler, a group vice president for Multicultural Business Development with Macy's, spoke of similar efforts in a recent interview with

"A key component of the outreach at Macy's is understanding customers," said Ms. Outler, who is responsible for the retail side of the department store's SD program. "We take an approach to minority and women-owned vendors (by) offering an outreach program and trying to understand gaps."

'Gaps' are misconceptions about Macy's customer base and what the company expects from potential minority suppliers. To address both, the company offers SD candidates a 4-1/2-day training program that "helps them synthesize their relationship" with Macy's, Ms. Outler explained, noting that "bringing entrepreneurs together out of isolation is helpful."

This past year, Macy's SD retail program selected several finalists from its development Workshop to mentor, including Cenia Paredes, a New York City dress maker who specializes in women's wear designed to fit four distinct shapes. The clothing, which Ms. Outler reports is "doing very well," is a direct result of the SD program. She admits it's a tough love approach, noting that very few applicants are selected to sell their lines inside the department store.

"When they're on board with us we want them to survive the first sale," Ms. Outler said, noting that Macy's places a significant emphasis on the competition, "in terms of differentiating our business."

Cenia Paredes, she said, "offered a product that we thought could service a broader customer."

Beyond the allure of unique fashion, Ms. Outler explained, minority-owned companies that Macy's brings into the fold must have sufficient financial backing, and they have to be able to deliver the goods in large quantities.

"Flexibility" is important, she said. "The ability to listen and learn -- and, I think, patience -- is very important. Asking questions and connecting with others with follow through."

Ms. Paredes, who began as a small-business owner with a grand concept, is just one of thousands of Hispanic entrepreneurs who have benefited from supplier diversity programs featured in "The 2013 Top 25 Supplier Diversity Companies: Growing Success and the Economy."

As former Secretary of Labor Solis wrote, "Leaders may change, circumstances may change, but our service must be constant."

Source: (c) 2013. All rights reserved.

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