HOTEC profile: The Houstonian's multidimensional Laura Terrell

Laura Terrell, the direcor of purchasing for The Houstonian Hotel Club & Spa, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, has always gravitated toward hotels. She began working in the hospitality industry during college, eventually joining the purchasing department at the Dallas Four Seasons as assistant purchasing director.

“It was a job that found me,” Terrell said. “It was something that catered to my strengths and talents. I like numbers, but I also like working creatively.”

In 1992, Redstone Management purchased The Houstonian out of bankruptcy for $33.5 million (the equivalent to $56.5 million today). Just 18 months later, Terrell joined the 289-room hotel in her current capacity, a position she has held for 21 years. 

A New Work Environment
At the Dallas Four Seasons, the purchasing department had separate divisions for food and beverage and operating supplies & equipment, something that changed when Terrell joined The Houstonian. By comparison, The Houstonian’s purchasing department consisted of Terrell and one other employee in charge of purchasing for the entire property and its 32,000 square feet of event space. Terrell grew the department to eight employees over the years, increasing manpower alongside purchasing volume.

“The hotel used to have $3 million in F&B sales per year, now we buy that amount,” Terrell said. “The property is a hotel, spa and club sitting on 18 acres, three separate businesses under one roof and we function as an overseer of that. I consolidated the hotel’s purchasing and centralized it throughout the campus.”

Terrell’s responsibilities have also usurped those of a traditional purchasing department. She became involved in purchasing for the construction of the hotel’s spa in 2002, an activity she resumed during the hotel’s room renovation in 2008 and other construction efforts since.

“I’m in charge of all small renovations; we don’t use designers,” Terrell said. “I work with architects on larger projects, and tell them what we want to use.”

Multidimensional Rules the Day
Multitasking mavens are in demand at hotels such as The Houstonian. According to Terrell, this approach is possible today thanks to new technology that makes research and purchasing on a large scale easy without setting foot off the property.

“In the past, vendors would literally have to come to our door,” Terrell said. “There is nothing around us, but we do everything now. We, as a department, are a jack-of-all-trades.”

This approach is something that sets the Houstonian apart as an independent hotel as because the majority of flagship hotels no longer have large purchasing departments, according to Terrell. Instead, brands have chosen to scale back purchasing and saddle individual departments with the purchasing process. In Terrell’s experience, many departments forced to handle their own purchasing often make the mistake of working through distributors when the most cost-effective and consistent method is instead to reach out to manufacturers.

“Economies of scale are missed by not having a purchasing department,” Terrell said. “These individual departments doing their own purchasing aren’t talking to each other, they aren’t getting volume discounts and they are spending more money on invoices and processing them.”

Most of all, Terrell is bullish on the importance of partnerships. “We are in the business of developing partnerships; it takes a long time to do that,” she said. “If you are doing good business with me, at the right price, you are my business partner. I want vendors to feel good about doing business with us because I have a client I am servicing.