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Students put supply chain management concepts to work for Habitat for Humanity ReStore operation

By Terri Hughes-Lazzell

When people think about volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, they usually visualize picking up a hammer and working on a home building project.

However, the impact that the Graduate Supply Chain Management Association (GSCMA) at Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business will have on Habitat for Humanity of Lansing without a hammer is just as important. In an effort to improve business operations at the Habitat for Humanity of Lansing ReStore—to be more effective—the student organization will, in reality, help the organization cover its operating costs.

MBA student Chris Schramski, left, talks with a board member for Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Photo by Alan Piñon
MBA student Chris Schramski, left, talks with a board member for Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
Photo by Alan Piñon

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores are nonprofit home improvement stores and donation centers that sell new and gently used home and building materials to the community. Profits from the ReStores cover operations.

“This is our main artery to sustain operations, so that we go to the community only to support our mission,” said Vicki Hamilton-Allen, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Lansing. That mission is using “partnership housing” to address poverty housing on a global scale.

The master’s of business administration (MBA) student group wanted to specifically leverage their academics to give back to the community. Led by Donny Nguyen, second-year MBA student and president of the GSCMA, the students reached out to Habitat for Humanity of Lansing.

“We were looking for shared value; the best way we could help the community,” Nguyen said.

That’s when Chris Schramski, second-year MBA student and vice president of GSCMA, came back with the idea to work with Habitat for Humanity, and specifically the ReStore operation. A former volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Schramski wanted to leave something beneficial to the community.

When the GSCMA team first approached Hamilton-Allen, she was intrigued by the possible partnership with the students. It would benefit Habitat for Humanity, the Lansing community, and the MBA students who would gain real world experience applying their course work to a non-traditional operation.

Discussions began open-ended. How could this group assist the local nonprofit organization? When discussions began to focus on supply chain management, Hamilton-Allen asked the team to tell her what they wanted to do. That’s when things got interesting, she said.

ReStore offered unique constraints to implementing supply chain management principles. It does not have a controlled flow or delivery, and items are inconsistent in sizing, so the team had to address those issues in the plan.

There wasn’t a good process for taking in donations and then processing them, making repairs, if necessary, and getting donations onto the sales floor—critical for operating support of the administrative function of Habitat for Humanity.

GSCMA put together a 5S (sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain) supply chain management process to improve efficiency in the floor plan and make processes simple to understand. Since volunteers sometimes change frequently, these are key for the ReStore operation—the quicker turnaround will help for maximum profit.

The lean supply chain management program, uses a floor plan and process that would improve the flow of donations to sales, and that would allow Habitat for Humanity to maintain consistency without heavy training for its volunteers.

“There was no good way to accept donations, track the inventory, and get the items to the floor to sell,” Schramski said.

A u-shaped work cell was developed by the students to assure the necessary tools are always within reach of workers and volunteers, and time and human energy are used most effectively. Work areas will be color-coded and signs used to direct work areas and tool locations.

Nguyen, Schramski, and Elizabeth Richter, a first-year MBA student who is part of the team responsible for the design and who will lead GSCMA next year, will see implementation of their plan begin at the ReStore Saturday, April 25. The three and their team of student volunteers will set up the new floor plan and supply chain management process.

“As this partnership grows, everyone wins: the members of GSCMA, the Lansing community, and the Broad College of Business,” said Nguyen. “I’ve invested my time in pursuing community outreach because I wanted to prove that this model can work. We have acquired a valuable set of skills and it’s our responsibility to use those skills to help others.”

Going forward, the partnership between the Broad College of Business’ MBA program and Habitat for Humanity holds numerous opportunities. “We embrace the help from the students as they gain hands-on experience, and we look forward to possibly an even more integrated relationship with the Broad College,” Hamilton-Allen said. “Their (student) talent is good for us and the community. And the experience is good for the students.”

Habitat for Humanity was established in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller. Habitat for Humanity of Lansing was established in 1987.


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