A buyer’s guide to Retail Store SWOTs

By Billy Maddock, Partner AdMore Buying & Merchandising Who would not want to go shopping as part of their interview process? This enjoyable and proactive aspect of interview preparation is so important. Apart from the obvious reasons of identifying the culture and familiarising yourself with the product range, conducting a SWOT analysis is the most crucial part of the store visit for retail Buyers and Merchandisers. The SWOT analysis is useful for extracting more focused and specific information about the company you are interviewing for, and the market you are entering into. Here are some things for Buyers and Merchandisers to consider when conducting a SWOT analysis:
  • Determine what the ratio is between own brand and branded products. Are the products mainly own brand or branded? Where do the own brand products lie on the shelves in comparison to the branded options?
  • How are the ranges put together? Are they design led or trend led? What are the prices of the products? How competitive are these prices?
  • How broad are the product ranges? How many SKUs are on display? What is the availability? Which options are the slow sellers and are they being promoted accordingly? How is labelling and packaging used to support the promotional activity of heavily promoted products?
  • Does the retailer offer a good/better/best product option (depending on size of the store) to ensure the customer is offered a variety of choices? How are the goods displayed? Are they going to maximise sales?
When compiling the SWOT analysis, it is also important to consider:
  • The image of the store and its footfall. This fundamentally depends on the socio-economic factors of the town/city the store is located in, as different products will be promoted and different price points will be set in accordance to the location of the store.
  • What methods are in place that encourage repeat purchases and the return of consumers to the store? For example, Tesco club card points and the Sainsbury’s Nectar card. If the company you are visiting has a loyalty scheme, try and figure out how this can directly influence consumer behaviour.
  • What is the margin in comparison to competitors? (i.e. price differences on branded products)
  • Are there in-store concessions that could affect sales/ranges? If so, where are these concessions situated within the store? What are the tactics behind this?
  • What are the USPs? How does the retailer try and differentiate themselves from their competitors? (E.G. have they got a CSR policy?)
In order to go that one step further, visit more than 1 store. You could visit a huge flagship store (the M&S Marble Arch store – 170,000 sq ft.) as well as a smaller store (in a small town centre) and try to spot the differences by referring back to the points made above. To stand out further, visit a competitor. This is useful to make comparisons between the two as well as painting a picture of what the market looks like, especially if the market is an unfamiliar one to you. For example, if you are a Furniture buyer interviewing for a stationery buying position then it’s important to look at the products in more detail. It is highly likely that there will be other candidates going for the same vacancy as you for the same retailer, and if they have visited multiple stores and show some of the information discussed above in their interview, and you haven’t, that could be the difference. Don’t take the chance! Click here to follow us on LinkedIn
 

How should a Buyer prepare for interview?

I recently caught up with a Head of Buying who I placed in her current role. We were discussing her disappointment that a lot of Buyers she had interviewed in the past hadn’t sold themselves to her. They didn’t talk about the results they had delivered for the business and if they did have the results / numbers they then weren’t prepared to explain how they had delivered them. This meant that she had to invest extra time and effort just to understand how good they were (or not). This is not the first time I have heard this from a client or indeed experienced it myself when interviewing. There is a variety of reasons this can happen: Short notice for interview means the candidate has a lack of time to prepare. Can you remember what you delivered 5 years ago off the top of your head and how you went about it? Can you talk confidently and credibly with those numbers in your head? It is rare to be able to do this without some level of preparation, particularly when nerves come into play. It can also happen when a candidate has been loyal to a business and has been there some time. When was the last time you had to remind people of what you have delivered and sell yourself? Probably in a performance review some time ago. Since then you have built a reputation internally so don’t need to revisit the numbers or the detail. This puts you at a disadvantage simply because you are out of practice at interviews and at selling yourself. I find it frustrating that really good candidates aren’t always successful in interviews for reasons like these. So, here is the advice I give my candidates about preparing for an interview…in short, Prepare! Obvious? You would be surprised. To thoroughly prepare for an interview, here are some considerations:
  1. Working in Retail gives you the significant advantage of being able to research your prospective employer by visiting a store (if it is a bricks and mortar retailer) or visiting their ecommerce site. Even if you did it a month ago by chance, do it again before the interview! Look at the range, the promotions, pricing, the store layout, what is good/ bad, how do you feel going in, and on leaving? You will be able to provide valuable insight for the business to consider and this demonstrates great commitment from you. This will really help the conversation if you are nervous as it gives some common ground to discuss.
  2. SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Even a one page of notes at first stage will be useful to show you have prepared, are keen and have some thoughts to bring to the conversation. This will also help you as a candidate to understand the business better and evaluate if this is a business you want to work for. It’s impressive to a client and can help you be the one they invite back. As the process progresses, you may be asked to prepare a SWOT on a product range specifically and this is your opportunity to demonstrate your creativity, commercial knowledge and insight into the market.
  3. Be prepared to discuss your Black Book. As a buyer, your industry contacts and supplier base form part of your professional ‘brand’ and any prospective employer will want to know what you will be bringing with you. This may need some discretion however it is worth thinking about this as part of your preparation.
  4. Highlight your key achievements for each of your roles separately from your CV, refresh yourself and do a STAR – Situation, Task, Action and Result or CAR. For further guidance on this, click here. These notes will be revision for you and give you confidence.
  5. If you have a JD, read it thoroughly and make notes where it highlights the key requirements and where you have that relevant experience. Combine this with your key achievements notes above, and it allows the interviewer to tick off what they are looking for. This is especially helpful if the first stage interviewer is a member of the HR or Recruitment team and is not the commercial line manager.
  6. Be passionate – show you want the job. Not any job - this job, with this
  7. Know the company - Look at the company website, look at the news on the business in industry publications, Retail Week, Drapers etc. Make sure you know what is going on right now and that you are able to list 3 reasons why you are interested in working there.
  8. Look at the company on LinkedIn. Have you worked with someone who now works there? If so, drop them an invite to ask them how they are getting on.
  I am sure there will be additional rituals you have in order to prepare - I tend to power dress and buy something new for the interview to give myself more confidence and ensure those first 30 seconds of impression count! The key is preparation and I can’t stress enough how important it is to allow enough time to prepare for any interview, after all, “retail is detail.” Good luck!  
 

Do merchandisers make the best buyers?

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!