Do Merchandisers make the best Buyers?
Buyers and Merchandisers are often seen as being totally different. The perception is that each role requires a completely different skillset, one more creative and one more analytical. Sometimes even requiring a different personality! It is true that people often take very different paths to reach these positions – a Buyer because of a love of design and product development, and a Merchandiser because of a love of numbers and analytics. However in my experience some of the best Buyers actually started their careers in merchandising before moving to the other side!
I have been lucky enough to interview a lot of Buyers at different levels and have found that Buyers who started their career in merchandising, unsurprisingly, are highly commercial and very focused on the numbers. This in turn leads to several things – they are extremely results driven and highly successful at margin forecasting and developing commercial plans. Crucially, they also know how their counterparts in the Merchandising department think. They appreciate the fine balance of creating a range plan; of accurately forecasting trends and planning stock levels; getting the product to market first to hit margin targets with the caution of managing the OTB and having the right exit plan to minimise mark downs.
Analysing the seasonal trends that need to be considered in order for product launches to hit peak hard can be challenging. Even Merchandisers who go on to be Buyers can’t predict the weather and this year is particularly prudent. An unprecedented long, warm summer required quick thinking, a flexible supply chain and strong relationships with suppliers to adapt in order to maximise and extend summer trading. Buyers that have a merchandising background often find it leads to a very positive working relationship with their merchandising colleagues – always advantageous when they need to work so closely together especially in unpredictable circumstances like dealing with the weather!
A Buyer who focuses on product development, trend and the look and feel of product is balanced by a Merchandiser who looks at the WSSI to manage the OTB, ensuring stock is maintained and accurately planned to meet sales targets. A person who has the blend of both skills with be extremely successful but I see more merchandisers go into buying than the other way round.
Merchandising is a relatively new department in some retailers and means that a lot of Buyers have had to do the financial modelling and range plans – B&Q and WH Smith’s are just two examples. These Buyers are highly sought after because of this balance between creativity and analytical skills (planning and forecasting a range) and the positive working relationship they can go on to have with a Merchandiser. Therefore I believe Merchandisers often make the best Buyers!
ps. as a Buyer, don’t underestimate the power of using a testimonial from a Merchandiser on your CV or on your LinkedIn profile. It’s incredibly powerful and says a huge amount about your ability as a Buyer and as a negotiator and influencer. This also works vice versa!