Retail Dietitian Close Up: Julie McMillin, RD, LD
Karen Buch, RDN, LDN
Interim Editor, RDBA Weekly
Tell us a little bit about Hy-Vee.
Hy-Vee is a supermarket chain that serves customers over eight states, but Hy-Vee is much more than just a grocery store. Everything we do operates under one of three pillars, which include; customer service & experience, culinary expertise and Health & Wellness. Hy-Vee currently has 238 stores and offers dietitian coverage in all of our stores.
What's the story behind your experience in retail and your position with Hy-Vee?
My retail experience actually started before I was a dietitian. I started working for Hy-Vee in college, mainly throughout the fresh departments. After college I worked in a hospital setting for 5 years and—in 2005—had an intern tell me that Hy-Vee was starting to hire dietitians. Immediately, I was excited and intrigued about this possibility. So I approached some of my old Hy-Vee friends and they put me in contact with a couple of store directors. After 4 different interviews, I was finally hired as the Hy-Vee Dietitian & HealthMarket Manager for the Milan, Illinois Hy-Vee. Three years later, I moved to Des Moines, Iowa and started working at the Ankeny Hy-Vee as their dietitian.
In 2010, I became an executive staff member as a Health and Wellness Supervisor for Hy-Vee’s Western territory. For two years I traveled between Kansas City and Sioux Falls working with approximately 98 stores with the joint goals to gain 100 percent dietitian coverage in those stores while also setting up their HealthMarkets. At the beginning of 2013, I had another move back to Des Moines and into the corporate office as Director of Health and Wellness. In my role as director, I continued to build the program and measure its return on investment (ROI). On December 10, 2014, I was promoted to a new role—Assistant Vice President of Retail Dietetics—in which I will continue to build on my previous goals, help to standardize, market and strengthen our existing retail dietetics efforts, and determine new ways to innovate and expand.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in the retail industry?
The first challenge I faced in that retail world was learning to speak the language of retail. Because I was considered a department head, every month I needed to turn in a P & L (Profit & Loss Report). I had to learn how to generate a P & L and understand what each and every line item meant so that I could knowledgably report this information to my store director. That was a big challenge and a huge shift from what I had previously been doing in the hospital setting.
The next challenge (and another shift) was learning how to operate as a retail dietitian. In the clinical setting I always had a patient record, so I knew exactly what I was walking into. In the retail environment, you don’t know what questions are going to come your way from customers or co-workers. So you have to stay up-to-date on all the latest trends and research.
What is one thing that you wish you would have known before starting your career as a retail dietitian?
Wear comfortable shoes! No seriously, the retail environment is ever-changing and you have to be willing to dig in and help out where ever you are needed. Sometimes that might mean stocking shelves or running a check-out lane during the holidays. I wish I would have taken the opportunity in high school and college to work in the various retail departments to gain a better understanding of what every position entails.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back? If yes, tell us about this and how you dealt with it.
I have always been a planner. I like to have a to-do list and stick to it. In retail, sometimes you do not get to your to-do list at all because other things come up. You must be able to be agile and roll with it. I have had to learn to prioritize, in order of urgency, and accept that some things may need to wait until tomorrow.
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward? If yes, tell us about this.
The individuals I have worked with have played a crucial part in my success—from my inventory specialists that would help me make sure my orders were correctly loaded, to the directors and assistant directors that took the time to teach me how to price my department and, of course, our corporate dietitian, supervisors and other in-store dietitians have all contributed and worked together with me to be able to make the best decisions for our customers. Finally, everyone on our dietitian team has always had support from the top leaders in our company. The executive team has helped knock down barriers so we can do whatever it takes to take care of our customers.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
Talk to everyone and don’t just assume. Customers can tell you exactly what they want in a retailer, but you have to ask. Fellow co-workers that have worked in the retail industry for years have a vast amount of knowledge to share, but you have to be willing to talk to them.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
I am most proud of the Hy-Vee dietitian program as a whole. Over the past 10 years I have seen our program grow from 10 dietitians to 208 dietitians. We now offer standard programs and services throughout our company to both customers and employees. We have young professionals that go to college just to become a Hy-Vee dietitian. Ten years ago, no one knew what a Hy-Vee Dietitian was. To me, that’s the best accomplishment of all.