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Chapter 2 The Role of the Fashion Buyer - Wiley …

The Role of the Fashion Buyer 5 Chapter 2 The Role of the Fashion Buyer The buying role differs between companies but all fashion buyers are respon-




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Text of Chapter 2 The Role of the Fashion Buyer - Wiley …

The Role of the Fashion Buyer55Chapter 2The Role of the Fashion BuyerThe buying role differs between companies but all fashion buyers are respon-sible for overseeing the development of a range of products aimed at a specifictype of customer and price bracket. There are various levels of seniority withina buying team, ranging from small independent stores, which may have onebuyer who also participates in sales and promotion, to a major fashion multi-ple which has trainee buyers, assistant buyers, buyers and buying managers,headed by a buying director. The job title can also vary, most notably at Marksand Spencer, where buyers are referred to as selectors . Members of a buyingteam need to be effective communicators as most of their time at work is spentliaising with suppliers or internal usually buy merchandise for a specific product area. In a smallcompany, this may be a very broad range, for example ladies casualwear,including jackets, tops, skirts and trousers, but in a large multiple, the range islikely to be far more focused, for example men s shirts. Usually, the larger thecompany the narrower the buyer s product area is. It is probable however thata buyer for a very narrow product range in a large company will be respon-sible for a higher amount of financial turnover, owing to large quantities perstyle being sold, than a buyer for a broader product range working for asmaller retailer. If the range of product categories is large most retailers,including Marks and Spencer and Bhs, have separate buying departments ordivisions for menswear, womenswear and childrenswear. The responsibilityfor buying merchandise is subdivided into specific product ranges whichmay include jerseywear, knitwear, leisurewear, nightwear, swimwear, tailor-ing, underwear, eveningwear, footwear and accessories. In larger companiesroles are usually more strictly defined than in smaller companies where the jobmay be more diverse in terms of products and responsibilities, calling forversatile buyers with a wide range of skills, as the job can sometimes extendinto the creative and technical areas of design and quality buying role for small independent retailers and some department storesis quite different from working for a high street fashion chain store, as inde-pendents mostly buy ranges of branded merchandise without the opportunityto become involved in the design or development of the product. The buyer srole is usually different in America as it includes more administrative dutiesand financial input which in the UK are normally part of the merchandiser sFashion Buying6job (Clodfelter, 2003). In the USA buying is often a subdivision of the mer-chandising team, whereas in many companies in the UK buying is perceivedas the central role. The experienced buyer s role invariably involves travelling,mainly to see clothing suppliers and to gather trend information (see Chap-ters 5, 6 and 7). A trainee buyer rarely travels abroad during the first year ofemployment. This gives a new recruit the chance to see how the head officeoperates and to assist the buyers before they embark on overseas trips. The firstworking trip for a trainee or assistant buyer is likely to be to Paris to view thetrends at trade fairs and in stores, but after two or three years he or she can betravelling to several countries per season, depending on the retailer and theproduct of a successful buyerA fashion buyer needs to be versatile and flexible as the buying schedule mayinclude sitting behind a desk one day writing reports and communicating byphone or email, travelling to Paris to identify forthcoming trends the nextweek, then flying to the Far East the following month to meet and negotiatewith suppliers. A good buyer needs stamina but should also be enthusiastic,conscientious, professional, decisive, numerate, creative, imaginative andwell motivated. To succeed in this career buyers need to have foresight anddevelop skills in people management and time management. It is rare to findsomeone with an equal balance between these qualities and skills and manybuyers will excel in some while being only adequate in others. Although thislist appears to be daunting, most of the skills are learnt within the job. Enth-usiasm and self-motivation are possibly the most important elements as theycannot be taught; they are the main qualities that, together with experience orqualifications will help the buyer to obtain that all-important first job. It is verydifficult to ascertain solely from CVs and interviews whether or not a personhas the right qualities to be a buyer as most of these will only be developed byexposure to the fashion buying environment. If, however, you already havemost of these qualities and the willingness to acquire the rest, you have thepotential to be a successful buyer. Even with extensive skills and experience abuyer who is new to a company will require a certain period of training andreadjustment to become familiar with different systems and terminology. Com-panies that do not recognise and plan for this factor could lower their profits asa result when the new buyer s range is with suppliersBuyers liaise with garment suppliers on a regular, often daily, basis. A buyermay spend more time speaking to a representative from one of the company smanufacturers, probably from the design or sales department, than to anotherbuyer from the same office. It is important therefore to establish strong workingThe Role of the Fashion Buyer7relationships with suppliers as a mutually supportive approach will be benefi-cial to both parties. The buyers interviewed for this book each stressed theirreliance on suppliers to enable ranges to be bought successfully. Occasionallybuyers appear to view themselves as being on the opposite side to suppliers in a superior position as they have the ultimate decision-making this can be detrimental to buying a successful range as the suppliermay be reluctant to offer new ideas if the buyer is too autocratic. It should beremembered that retailers and manufacturers both have the same main aim: tosell as many garments as possible by meeting customers requirements. Toliaise effectively both the buyer and supplier need to form a relationship basedon integrity, reliability and respect. Buyers can only expect to see samples andcostings delivered on time by the manufacturer if they in turn respond quicklyand professionally to the supplier s phone calls or emails. Buyers liaise withsuppliers for numerous reasons throughout the buying cycle (see Chapter 3) inrelation to selecting, ordering and delivery of garments and, in the case of ownlabel retailers, participating in the product development of the major aspects of the buyer s role in dealing with suppliers is tonegotiate prices and delivery dates, and many major retailers therefore offertraining courses in negotiation skills to their buyers. The garment manufac-turer s sales executive, or occasionally the senior designer, submits a costprice for a garment, which has been based on the result of a costing processin the factory (see Chapter 7). This may take place in a face-to-face discussion,or in writing. The buyer calculates how much the garment needs to be sold forin the store to achieve the retailer s mark-up , which is the difference betweenthe manufacturer s cost price and the selling price. The cost price is usuallymultiplied by around to calculate the retail selling price for a retailer ofbranded goods, or three times the cost price for an own label retailer, includ-ing Value Added Tax (VAT) in the UK (see Chapter 5). It may appear fromthese mark-ups that retailers make a great deal of profit, but their slice of theselling price has to be substantial in order to cover overheads such as storerents, utility bills, shop assistants wages and head office costs, including thebuyer s salary, and it is hoped some net profit for the should be able to estimate from past experience how much theconsumer will expect to pay for a particular garment, and therefore can calcu-late the optimum cost price which they would be prepared to pay. Initially thesupplier approaches the price from a different angle from that of the buyer,working on how much the garment will cost the supplier to produce. Anexperienced salesperson working for a manufacturer is also able to anticipatehow much the buyer expects to pay. The buyer obviously wants to pay as littleas possible for the product whereas the salesperson wants to sell it for as muchas possible, since both are aiming to make profits for their respective com-panies. The buyer and salesperson both need to be realistic, however, and useFashion Buying8their judgement as to which prices are reasonable. If the buyer cannot achievethe retailer s target margin the buying manager will probably need to givepermission for the garment to be purchased at this price, otherwise the stylemay be dropped from the with internal departmentsBuying and merchandising are invariably centralised operations for retail chains,as economies of scale and higher efficiency are achieved this way. London isby far the most popular location for the head offices of British fashion retailers,though several large store chains and most mail order companies are based inthe North, the Midlands or in Scotland. Fashion buyers liaise regularly withcolleagues from other departments at head office, as the successful developmentand retailing of a fashion range is a team effort, requiring a variety of specialistinput. Although buyers are usually based alongside, and interact frequently with,other members of the buying team it is likely that they will spend more work-ing time in contact with other internal departments, as shown in Figure varies from one company to another as not all retailers have in-housedesign teams, fabric technologists or packaging teams. Buying is seen as acrucial and central role at head office, as the buyer makes key decisions aboutthe products sold by the company and the job therefore involves liaison withmost of the retailer s internal departments. The buyer may liaise frequently, ona daily or weekly basis, with key departments such as merchandising and qualitycontrol (QC), or intermittently with other departments, such as buying teamBuyers need to work closely with the rest of their buying colleagues, as theirranges need to be sold alongside each other in the same stores, and are likelyto be purchased to be worn together. Buyers from different areas thereforeneed to liaise regularly to keep in touch with developments in ranges and tosupport each other. Most buying teams have regular, perhaps weekly, meetingsFigure liaison with internal Role of the Fashion Buyer9under the guidance of a buying manager. Some buyers may meet more oftenon an informal basis to update each other on ranges, and to ask for advice oropinions. If there is a quality problem with a garment in the range and thebuyer does not wish to reject it, another experienced buyer s opinion may besought to help the decision-making process. Buyers usually travel together onbusiness trips and can therefore consult each other for advice on the for product ranges which are closely linked ( if one is responsiblefor blouses and another for tailoring) are likely to consult each other fre-quently, to ensure that the range is well coordinated. Sometimes the buyermay need to contact another buyer in a separate division of the company, soa ladies casualwear buyer who wants to source a certain type of fabric mayseek the advice of a casualwear buyer from a menswear retailer within thesame store departmentThe fashion buyer needs the commercial flair to buy a range, whilst themerchandiser needs the commercial acumen to enable the range to worksuccessfully. Merchandisers interact very regularly with buyers, and are re-sponsible for setting the financial parameters of a garment range. This caninclude creating a framework for the buying budget, defining the number ofproduct types and determining the number of lines within a range. In effectmerchandisers give buyers a shopping list of products in terms of prices (entry,mid or high) and the length of time which they are expected to be in Atkinson, menswear accessories merchandiser at River Island, describeshow his role works in practice:I sit side-by-side with the buyer and the rest of the team: working closely withan assistant merchandiser, allocator and senior allocator. My main respons-ibilities are minimising risk, maximising potential and planning a balancedrange. We have a target of how much profit to make for the season and howmuch markdown we re allowed. Merchandisers need good computer skillsand as the job is very numerical and analytical, being able to read figures andpull out the information is essential. Communication is also very importantbetween the design, buying and merchandising have a major role to play in many of the key meetings andprocesses within the buying cycle (see Chapter 3). They advise buyers ontarget margins for the range which may differ for certain garments dependingon the country of origin, the flexibility and lead time of the supplier, and thebalance of the margin across the whole range. If a product makes a lowermargin than the target which has been set, it may still be approved if otherproducts in the range make a higher margin to compensate for it. This isreferred to as marrying margins, and is usually acceptable if the averagemargin across the whole range equals or exceeds the target. Merchandisersliaise frequently with buyers and suppliers to place initial and repeat involves regular meetings with buyers to assess the progress of each style

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