Adventures in Extreme Sourcing with NYC Sourcing Leaders

What do a deluxe porta potty, a railroad across the world’s highest sand dune, a sanitary product prototype, and a curving shower curtain have in common? They’re all prototypes of sourcing innovation. After all, if it exists, it can be sourced — and, as the latest NYCSL meeting at MDC Partners demonstrated, even if it doesn’t exist yet, it can be invented and then sourced!

Sourcing can be at the vanguard of innovation within its organization, all it needs is a visionary team driving its efforts. In Inventing the 21st-Century Purchasing Organization, McKinsey noted that “forward-looking purchasers can work closely with suppliers to spur product and process innovations that save money and even offer strategic advantages.” At the spring meeting of NYC Sourcing Leaders, we met a few of these sourcing visionaries and heard their most extreme sourcing stories. Without further ado, here they are:

A Toilet That Turns a Porta Potty into a Porta Party

Porta potties are the scourge of public spaces. Where many people see an unwelcome necessity, Zappos saw an opportunity. They set out to create a deluxe Porta Party — and they turned to Mark Spencer and the rest of the Zappos procurement team to turn this vision into a reality. The team sourced everything from the perfect selfie station to 40-inch waterproof television monitors to a motorized squatty potty. The Porta Party was a huge success; during its inaugural run at the three-day Life Is Beautiful festival, it welcomed 1,114 visitors to its throne — 77% of which used the selfie station!

Key takeaway: Anyone can turn a proverbial porta potty into a porta party, if you’re willing to think outside the box.

A Railroad Atop the World’s Highest Sand Dune

How do you develop a railroad that can run across the world’s highest sand dune? This was the quandary facing Sid Baz and the team at LaFargeHolcim after the building solutions provider was tasked with developing a railroad across the vast Rub’ al Khali desert. The location presented myriad challenges — the dunes were constantly moving in concert with the wind — but by sourcing the right R&D resources, LaFargeHolcim was able to develop a railroad that was as dynamic as the sand it sat upon.

Key takeaway: Be a conductor and a collaborator; it takes a village to keep a project on track.

A Prototype for Sourcing Success

At the start of his career at Procter & Gamble, John Hardy found himself tasked with assessing the feasibility of a new women’s sanitary product. Collaborating with Marketing and Product Development to create a plan, John and his co-innovators then relocated to Osaka for 10 days to develop raw materials and production options with Mitsubishi. The group traveled through small manufacturing towns across Japan, meeting with local suppliers and ultimately developing a prototype and feasible supply chain. Although the product never made it out of consumer testing, John learned great lessons on how the Japanese negotiate with patience.

Key takeaway: Even if your project never makes it beyond the prototype, takeaways from the process can help you develop a prototype for sourcing successes down the road.

A Shower Curtain That Bends the Rules

Ever taken a shower and found yourself in an unwilling dance with a sticky shower curtain? This was the problem plaguing former adman Patrick Raymond — and he set out to do something about it. Raymond took a proverbial bath with his first attempt at a dynamic shower curtain; his suppliers weren’t making the product to his specifications, rendering the design ineffective. After taking stock and re-selecting his suppliers, he found a partnership that worked. The result — Curvi —  is an innovative (and machine-washable!) shower curtain that uses origami-like folds to naturally curve away from the body.

Key takeaway: Choose suppliers strategically. If you don’t, your whole project could be a wash.

Be Inspired by NYC Sourcing Leaders

You won’t be regaled with tales of toilets at every NYC Sourcing Leaders session, but each meeting is flush (excuse the pun!) with insights from some of the area’s best and brightest professionals in the space. If you’re in the New York metropolitan area, you don’t want to miss out.

Join the NYC Sourcing Leaders LinkedIn Group to get updates on meetings and connect with your peers.


NYC Sourcing Leaders share their most extreme sourcing stories. From left to right: Jason Cammorata, MDC Partners; Mark Spencer, Mercy Corps; Sid Baz, LaFargeHolcim; John Hardy, Market Source Advisors; Patrick Raymond, Curvi Inc.


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