The CSI Future Leaders program, supported by Cruise & Ferry Interiors, was created to highlight the next generation of cruise design leaders and those who are making a positive impact within the industry. Anna Thomas is among CSI’s 2023 Future Leaders. Starting her work in cruise interiors in 2018 at Norwegian Cruise Line, she began as a Buyer for Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FFE). Today, she is an Owner Supply Manager for Princess Cruises, sourcing furniture for their upcoming, highly anticipated new vessels, Sun Princess and Star Princess. Last week at Cruise Ship Interiors Design Expo Americas (CSI) 2023, we caught up with Anna to talk all things cruise procurement. Read on to find out more about Anna’s exciting career, Princess Cruises’ upcoming newbuilds, her thoughts on being a CSI Future Leader, and the cruise procurement process for furniture, from sourcing products all the way through to supplier requirements!
Can you tell us more about your current role and what it entails on a day to day basis?
My current role is Owner Supply Manager for Princess Cruises. I am currently working on two upcoming newbuilds, Sun Princess, launching in 2024, and Star Princess, launching in 2025. My role is to buy all owner supply furniture for those two newbuilds. These projects are different because we are responsible for buying all loose furniture, starting from cabins through to suites, and all the lounges, restaurants and crew areas, which makes it a very challenging project because we are talking about thousands of pieces. This makes it complicated to organise the purchasing process also from a design perspective ensuring that all those pieces work together.
What do you enjoy most about your day to day work?
I love that no two days are the same. Every single day there is something new, something happens, or something is not working properly, and we must figure out the solution. I really enjoy the chaos of it, but, at the same time, how organised everything is. We know the direction we are going in and we work very fast paced. That’s one thing that I love about this job. The other one is connecting with people. I love meeting new suppliers, discussing what capacities and what capabilities they have, and testing furniture. Even though I’m not a designer and I work on the cruise procurement side, I really enjoy it.
What inspired you to venture into cruise design?
I’m originally from Poland and moved to the United States in 2015. I lived in Miami at this time, and I was lucky enough to live just across from the port of Miami, seeing all the big cruise ships coming and going was fascinating to me. I took my first cruise in 2017. Here, I told myself, I must know how it works. It is amazing that we go on board as customers and everything works perfectly. We don’t see the work of the hundreds of people behind the scenes making sure everything runs smoothly.
Since my first cruise, I then kept applying to all cruise lines in Miami, and I was lucky enough to join Norwegian Cruise Line in 2018. Here I worked in sourcing teams for special projects. I started with FF&E Procurement then I moved into the position of Category Manager for Refurbishment Projects. Then in 2021 in the middle of the pandemic I decided to move from Miami. I left Norwegian Cruise Line and moved to Seattle where I got the opportunity to join Princess Cruises for my current role.
What’s the first step for you when sourcing products?
One of the first things I always want to understand is what kind of experience the supplier has with the marine industry because it’s very demanding, it’s very particular, and it is quite limited. Building furniture for land based projects and marine based projects is very different. I really like when suppliers understand that and do the legwork to prepare to speak with us.
Then what I usually do is have a 30 minute call with a supplier to give them 15 minutes to present their company and what do they do and what they excel at, then I will have 15 minutes of questions. Once my boss from Norwegian Cruise Line told me: if they cannot sell it in 15 minutes, they will not do it in one hour. Then I like to visit the suppliers, especially new suppliers. I visit their showrooms to see what they do, then, when we build the bidding packages, I target the designs we have to see what similar designs the suppliers have. This makes it easier for them to quote and to target what we are actually looking for because translating the architect’s design plans into what we are actually purchasing is a long process that involves a lot of people.
How do you tend to source and vet new suppliers?
One way is going to events like Cruise Ship Interiors Expo. I really enjoy coming here because there are new suppliers attending and it is a great way to speak face to face. After 2-3 years of closure, it’s amazing to be here again, to talk with people, to ask them questions, and get in contact. It builds a bridge between us already because it’s then much easier for me to reach out. They can put a face to the person and it’s much easier to work together. I also look at different industry magazines to verify what’s going on, and what kind of ads appear in those magazines. Another way is word of mouth from other cruise lines. Between cruise lines, we talk with each other, so if one cruise line tests a new supplier, the other cruise lines will know about it.
How open are you to bringing new suppliers on board and what are the things you look for when you want a new supplier?
I’m very open. There are some suppliers within the industry that have done excellent work for many years, but I think there is space for more, so I will always encourage suppliers to reach out. I understand the sales pitches, but sometimes we have to understand how they manufacture, and where they manufacture. We really value honesty of suppliers and when they are very clear and straightforward, for example, yes we manufacture X in country Y, we hire subcontractors. We want to know this from the beginning because it allows us as owners to control the process of production. So far with Sun Princess, we invited new suppliers, and during the show I used this opportunity to see what options we have for Star Princess as well.
What are the requirements for new suppliers?
One of the main things is financial stability. Without this, my sourcing team will not allow me to go any further, so I always do this extra step before I even engage with suppliers because I don’t want to waste anybody’s time. Another thing is transparency in quoting. When I get the quote, I don’t want to just get the price, I want to understand the quoting of the original fabric, the original chair, the original specifications, original stone, or whatever it is, because it’s very time consuming for us to go back and forth where information gets lost. So, the more information we have from the beginning, the easier it is for me to analyse the quote.
What does being a CSI future leader mean to you?
On one side it means for me, introducing new suppliers to cruise lines and working with suppliers who are not ready at this point to enter the cruise industry, but they would like to. It’s a chance to give them some guidance, like understanding what you have to do to be here and be able to do business with us. So, that’s definitely one thing. Another thing I think our suppliers have to focus on is sustainability and getting creative in providing those solutions to us as owners. We are learning from each other so we can present them some ideas as future leaders.
I really would love to stay in the cruise line industry. I think it’s a really dynamic place and I would like to be able to teach the next generation of people coming into work in this industry and show them how exciting of a place it is!
Refresh your knowledge, source suppliers for your next project, and connect with representatives from world-leading cruise lines at Cruise Ship Interiors Design Expo Americas. Find out all about the next event here.