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Marketing Students Researching Habitat for Humanity Supply-Chain Procedures

By Keith Morelli

Students at Habitat for Humanity

TAMPA (July 14, 2017) -- Ten University of South Florida marketing students are researching ways to improve how Habitat for Humanity does business. Specifically, the students are studying the supply-chain practices of the non-profit and, by the end of the fall semester, they hope to have recommendations that could impact at least 15 Habitat for Humanity affiliates across Florida (and possibly many more).

"I see this project as very data analytics oriented, so we do a lot of work researching and performing data analysis on the information that Habitat for Humanity provides," said Alicia Wang, a graduate assistant who is the project leader. "We are hoping to interview affiliates on their purchase operations to gain further insight into the analysis.

"The students are working to identify supplier costs for the materials so that we can analyze and understand how each variable in the Habitat for Humanity supply chain affects each other," she said. "We also are researching best practices for performing cost-saving analysis related to procurement, including transportation, storage and other factors."

The students involved in the project all come from the USF Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' Student Roundtable.

"The project is rewarding because Habitat is a non-profit that is focused on helping people in need," said Robert Gaylord, a student taking part in the research. "We are able to use our talents to help further the goals of the organization, while learning more about the supply chain. The experience has felt good because we have used knowledge from the MBA program to positively impact the surrounding community."

So far, the project has presented new challenges, said Sam Mohammad, another student, who is researching Habitat for Humanity's procurement procedures.

"Our group has so many questions on the table that are difficult to get answered," he said. "Because Habitat for Humanity is decentralized, it has been a challenge for us to get direct answers. We are trying to do a cost analysis of its current pricing compared to bulk pricing.

"We are investigating the benefits of a centralized approach, in which communication is better between the different affiliates across Florida. In addition to better communication about prices, a centralized approach may allow for reduced prices through bulk-buying," he said.

"Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, so finding more efficient procurement methods may not necessarily help the organization directly," he said. "However, cost reductions in the overall price of a home does translate into cheaper homes for the individuals and families that Habitat for Humanity is helping. In the sense of helping reduce costs for those in need, efficient procurement does help accomplish the overall mission."

Habitat for Humanity of Florida, an organization that builds, renovates and repairs homes for the needy, made the request for research near the end of the spring semester and the officers of the roundtable immediately recruited students to be part of the effort.

The first team meeting was held in May and the delegation of tasks and work on the project began, Wang said. Since then, the team has met and will continue to meet with Habitat for Humanity executives to provide updates and seek further information.

"We are seeking to know whether our local and uncoordinated procurement is achieving the best pricing and results or whether a coordinated procurement effort and supply chain would yield better pricing results," said the request for research from Habitat for Humanity. "We propose to involve 15-20 of the Florida affiliates in the analysis."

As part of the arrangement, Habitat for Humanity of Florida is asking its affiliates to make their pricing and logistics available to USF students and faculty.

"Habitat for Humanity conducts its home building operations across the United States through separately incorporated affiliates," said Habitat for Humanity of Florida CEO Barbara Inman. "In Florida, there are 57 affiliates that conduct 1,000 building or repair projects annually, more than in any other state.

"Habitat for Humanity of Florida is a support organization for the Florida affiliates and we are thankful to the Muma College of Business marketing students for undertaking a project to understand how we might bring some innovative purchasing practices to bear," she said. "Any economies of scale will help us to serve more families."

Marketing instructor Kerry Walsh, who also is director of the Business Honors Program, said the main question to be answered is whether all the Habitat for Humanity affiliates in Florida would benefit from a centralized purchasing system.

"We are working with the CEO of Habitat for Humanity for all of Florida and the COO of the Hillsborough Habitat for Humanity," Walsh said. "Recently, we received a bill of materials for a complete house and Habitat for Humanity has identified a list of approximately 20 building items they would like this project to explore in detail.

"Based on the results of this study," said Walsh, who also is the faculty advisor for the USF Council for Supply Chain Management Student Roundtable, "the CEO has indicated that this could potentially be rolled out on a national level."