Interview with a Retail Fashion Buyer

in 9 to 5 type jobs, Fashion, Indoor Jobs, Jobs with Bonus Pay, Salaried Jobs, Sales Jobs

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What do you do for a living?

I’m a retail fashion buyer for a major American department store.

How would you describe what you do?

At the most basic level the buyer ensures that the correct merchandise is in a store at the correct time with the correct quantities to satisfy the customer. The success of a buyer is quantified by achievement of retail sales and gross margin goals.

What does your work entail?

A buyer’s in charge of a product category and you basically review the marketplace landscape per your particular customer bases or what particular customer base you may be looking to capture. Then you go out and you determine what the correct product is for your category. Then it involves lots of negotiations.

You find a vendor. You create a partnership that’s mutually beneficial and create an assortment with them, again to cater to your customer. You plan the financial aspect of the from top to bottom at a seasonal level and year level and plan your goals for the big picture.

You find the partner that you want to purchase the styles from. Then you purchase the styles. As a buyer you’re in charge of all the merchandising aspects, of choosing the merchandise, choosing what it looks like on the floor, and designing the floor landscape.

You’re in charge of all the product information that goes to the store and any and all communication to the store about your product.

Buyer’s are in charge of all the advertising and marketing too. Any promotional cadences, when you see a special on television, if they say that this is going to be $49.99 and it’s usually $79.99. The buyer’s the one that chose that. You have to do a financial forecast, understand the market and what’s happening when you have product category lists.

You have to really enjoy business management first and product second and understand that in your career, if you really are truly a good merchant, you should be able to buy widgets, gadgets, and designer clothing exactly the same. You should be as good a buyer buying staple guns for the Home Depot as you are buying Couture.

But the other thing as a buyer is you’re an executive in that corporation, especially as a department store buyer, you’re a top-level executive. Managing a large team is a huge part of your job. You routinely sit with other top level executives and report what your 2 to 3 years development goals are, who’s getting promoted when to what position on your team, etc.

How did you get started?

As a senior in high school I job shadowed a buyer at the local luxury department store and was very interested in the dynamics of the role. While majoring in retail merchandising (a combination business/fashion degree,) I took a job as a sales associate at a department store and took the role very seriously, working about 35 hours a week. My school required a formal internship junior year and the department store agreed to move me to New York to work in their flagship store for a semester as a store-line management intern. After showing strong performance results I was granted a second internship in the buying office the next summer. This buying office internship, in addition to 6 years of part-time retail experience, opened many doors. Upon college graduation, I was given offers in big-box, specialty and department store buying offices.

What do you like about what you do?

I like almost every aspect of my job but most importantly I like how dynamic it is. While there is certainly an “average” day, most days are filled with a variety of both analytical and creative work. I am regularly challenged to solve a problem that I have not come across before or develop a new business opportunity that I have identified. The ability to travel (to trade shows and visiting stores) keeps me connected to the “results” portion of my job. It is very satisfying to see a project that my team developed come to fruition in a store.

What do you dislike?

There is a lot of pressure that comes with buying for a large department store. Both internally and externally, there are a lot of relationships to manage and many people with high expectations. My decisions affect thousands of people around the world and can make a vendor’s company thrive or fail. I have an ethical obligation to carefully manage these relationships to ensure both parties benefit.

How do you make money/how are you compensated?

Annual salary and a bonus if sales margin and turn goals are achieved.

How much money do you make as a retail fashion buyer?

$130,000

How much money do you make starting out?

$42,000. The major “raises” in buying are the jumps from assistant buyer (3-4 years) to associate buyer (2 years)

What education or skill are needed to do this?

Minimum four year degree in business or retail merchandising is best. Dependent upon varied professional experience it is a role that can be worked into. I know a retail CEO that was a history major!

Required skill set includes strong analytical skills (both quantitative and qualitative,) leadership qualities, excellent relationship building talent and the ability to form and execute a business strategy.

What is most rewarding about this job?

Seeing my assortment vision fully executed in a store (and knowing the customer likes what I did because I’m making sales plan!)

In addition, I have the extraordinary luck to be working with amazing partners. The retail world is full of talented, eccentric, exciting people who work hard but have so much fun doing it!

What is most challenging?

“Change is life,” a term especially true in the retail world. The minute you are comfortable in your job and feel like you know what you are doing your company, role, team, location, etc will change! The second challenge of the field is the competitive nature of the industry. A lot of people want your job and are willing to do it for less you make! Finally, you have to enjoy working in a field that is 90percent women. This is a benefit and a drawback. It can be a very dynamic and supportive environment or a very dramatic and catty one.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Think long and hard before you decide want to do this. I see girls that I mentor that are like “Oh, my god. I so want to be a fashion buyer. It will be so cool.”

You’ve got about five years before you ever touch product, before you ever see product.

To remember that maybe in your first year 70% of the job is analytical and execution. You have to really enjoy business management first and product second and understand that in your career, if you really are truly a good merchant, you should be able to buy widgets, gadgets, and designer clothing exactly the same. You should be as good a buyer buying staple guns for the Home Depot as you are buying Couture.

You really should love to buy nuts and bolts the same way you buy high fashion. You have to be able to understand any sort of product that comes along and learn business models first and learn product second.

How much time off do you get/take?

I have been with my company 5 years and therefore earn four weeks of vacation in addition to national holidays. When I started, I received two weeks vacation. It is difficult to take more then one full week off at a time because of management responsibilities. It should be noted that the day after thanksgiving is often a required work day in a buying office. One “perk” of the fashion industry in NYC is that most companies give half-day Fridays in the summer.

What’s a common misconception people have about what you do?

That it’s very glamorous. Maybe 5 out of 200 major style buyers in my company get to do anything remotely like cool, as far as meeting celebrities, going to fashions shows, unique product offering and whatnot. It happens, and it’s fun when it does, but it is not as often as people think.

What are your goals and dreams for the future?

I would like to move into a multinational buying role where I can utilize my skills as a department store buyer along with some of my passion for travel.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosany December 15, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I really enjoyed reading this interview. I’m currently trying to transition into a new career and Fashion Merchandising is the field I’m very interested in. Having a full-time job and fixed income, then go back to school and intern again is hard to think about. This interview assisted me in determining my career move. Thank you!

Reply

TIPHANI July 10, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Hi Rosany,
I just saw your comment and I am pretty much in the same predicament as you. I want to transition careers but am wondering how working full time, fixed income and going back to school. Have you ventured this path as of yet? How is it going for you?

Reply

Marga July 20, 2012 at 5:56 am

Hi,I haven’t started high school yet but I know I would love to have a job in the fashion industry. I could shop for YEARS, but I was wondering what fashion career would be best for me.

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