Interning at West Elm

Yen Chiang
This summer Yen Chiang, MBA class '19, interned at West Elm. Read on to learn more about her time interning with West Elm.
Tell me about your summer internship experience. Where did you work and what types of projects did you work on?

I interned at West Elm with the small but mighty Social Consciousness and Innovation team, which leads the pursuit towards West Elm’s Handcraft, Fair Trade, Organic, Sustainably Sourced, and Local goals. My work this summer focused on the LOCAL program, in which West Elm stores curate selections of locally-made products and host events with creative small businesses. Through the program West Elm can get to know and support the communities they do business in, promote craft and talent in the U.S., and offer unique products to their customers. Since the program launched in 2013 in two stores, LOCAL has worked with over 900 makers in all 100+ of its stores and online.
Over the summer I conducted research and drafted tools to support the growth of the LOCAL program. In terms of research, there were two parts. The first was a survey of LOCAL makers. We wanted to know more about their experiences as a creative small business owner and how LOCAL helps (or could help) them reach their business objectives. We received over 300 responses that painted a varied, vivid picture. The second was an analysis of LOCAL sales and inventory over the past five years, which gave us ideas for tweaking operations and planning. From what we learned, we also drafted tools and guidance for store leads, who ultimately drive the program.

What was the most valuable thing you learned at your internship?

I learned a lot about business model design and program management over the summer and got to understand LOCAL from the many stakeholder perspectives, such as planning and marketing within West Elm, LOCAL stores leads, and the makers / small business owners. It was interesting to trace how a decision around ordering frequency, for example, would impact West Elm (budgeting cycles), stores (product merchandising), and makers (cash and production flows)—and then to think through how changing one piece would affect the entire system and impact stakeholders. I was able to bring some of my previous experiences in design to the project, and it reinforced for me how important a stakeholder perspective is to the success of any service, business model, or program.

Did your summer internship experience change your thoughts about your career trajectory moving forward?

Working at West Elm was my first foray into corporate sustainability and it was rewarding to be part of a company that is increasing the number of opportunities to make conscious, sustainable purchasing decisions. West Elm was the first home retailer to offer Fair Trade Certified products and they now work with 15 Fair Trade Certified factories in five countries. Large companies have the power to change the status quo at scale and my internship at West Elm has strengthened my interest in working in-house to expand the number of and access to sustainable products.