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What I want to look like after 12 hour days spent over analyzing purchase orders..sadly I look nothing like this.

Oh boy. The dreaded end of year financials are coming up and I can tell you that with the consumer reports coming out I am pretty sure that my department isn’t the only department that did not make plan. Incase you didn’t read that bold text I am going to say it again: we did not make plan. I don’t know how many people understand what this means but I can say it is safe to assume that the amount of angst, depression and vision of doom are looming inside the heads of everyone in my division as they were to the government employee’s who received notice of the government shut down earlier this year.

Yet on to more pressing matters. Plan. Plan is made to devise a buying strategy. Plan’s are usually constructed by both buyers and planners in collaboration to guarantee the three most important metrics of any good business; those metrics being turn, margin, and sales. In order for a buyer to understand his/her financial allowance for the season, and thus plan properly for his/her buys one must put together this plan which is basically a forecast of the season. Since most buyer’s aren’t fortune tellers (at least the normal ones aren’t, the good ones probably sold their soul to the devil to achieve such witch craft) a forecast is usually developed from looking at last year’s performance as well as this years trends. This includes devising plans for basic items, fashion items, markdowns, and inventory goals. All of which must lead to the bottom line of the business, which is to turn a profit and increase market share.

This is more of what I look like after 12 hour days

So as you can see when we don’t make plan it means many things. One means that we are forecasting too high, or we are not forecasting correctly. Both of which mean that someone did not make good buys or even worse made the wrong buys. Either way it means that we get less money for next season and when we get less money that means we get less options and it means I have to stay later to do more analysis. This basically includes countless hours of due diligence tracking orders, running numbers and what if scenarios in excel (I don’t know how many of you realize the burden that this has on my social and emotional life) and then presenting countless options to buyers, planners, and worse of all, merchandising managers. Let me just tell you- my life is much more exciting and stress free when we are making plan. So please, go buy my stuff and help a girl make plan.

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“The unsung hero of Vogue,” Grace Coddington, trend spotting the latest and greatest

 

When you first enter the world of fashion buying it is assumed that you have a sound foundation in fashion- whether it’s apparel, accessories, jewelry and what ever else looms- and more importantly an eye for what is coming next. As with most buy seasons you will always be a 6 months to a year ahead of the market depending on your area. I will elaborate more on this in future posts. For this section I want to focus on the conversation topics that help a good buyer develop an eye for product, brands, and most importantly consumer preference; all of which relate to the bottom line of driving a profitable business. I will post more in depth about each of these area’s but for now the general gist goes like this

  1. Trending Brands- where on the trend curve is this brand (is it peaking? post peak? pre peak?)
  2. Trending Items- how is this item driving your business? Is it a seasonal item or a basic item? Does this item spread out evenly over the US market or is it on the coasts? Is it international? What ethnicities are driving purchase point of this item?
  3. Trending Markets- who is your target customer and how can you grow that market? Do you see any new market demographics rising? Can you capture this market?
  4. Market Share- Who else has the same customer base as you? How can you capture a larger share of this customers disposable income? Is there something the competition does better than you that you can mimic or out due? Will it effect your overall brand?
  5. Exiting Options- Are there low performing brands, items, or group of items that you can clear out to bring in new product? What newness can you bring in and replace to drive up your business?
  6. Congruent Businesses- Does your department coincide with another (example swimwear and sandals/flip flops are purchased together) can you coordinate something to drive business?
  7. Foreign and Domestic Affairs- Are there any events coming up that can help your business both domestically and internationally? What events can you use to help drive your business (ex. the olympics in active wear)
This must be what it looks like to work at Coach

This must be what it looks like to work at Coach

By thinking about each of these questions on a daily/weekly/monthly basis a good buyer will be able to understand where the market is headed from both micro and macro level perspectives. When these questions are answered and a good buy is made all the buyer has to do is sit back, hand it off to the planner and make the assistants (insert sobbing face here) track progress for what hopes to be a good business year. 

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“Now you’re just somebody you used to know”

You will probably hear me re-iterate this message over and over and over again. Being an Assistant Buyer is the worst job. Ever. I don’t care what anyone in editorial or copy says. Assistant Buying is difficult because it will break you down in so many ways than you knew were possible.

You will reassess your degree and revert to your days in college when your parents told you to go to medical school/law school. You will look yourself in the mirror and ask “why was it so hard for you to track a purchase order?” Then you will walk back to your desk and resign yourself to sample runs for the rest of the day because doing anything that requires any form of mental capability will require you to confront all your failures and you don’t have time for that.

“This is for the greater good” you tell yourself. But, who are you kidding? The greater good? Would they know if you weren’t here to harass vendors for late shipments or inquire about how over-bought your department is? Yes- probably. They would know that someone wasn’t prepping for the best seller meeting and gathering all the products. They would know you weren’t there, and they would be furious.

Assistant buying is the worst.

Most people that I have met in the industry never intended to be buyers, or in fashion per se. The majority of us, myself included, sort of fell into it, and usually, that is how it all begins. You don’t really know or understand what you are getting into until you start that training program and voila! You have already begun your ascension down the rabbit hole that we call fashion buying.

That moment when you are one Chanel blazer away from selling your soul

That moment when you are one Chanel blazer away from selling your soul

At first it is simply a challenge to yourself…you ask how hard can this be? It’s basically like shopping isn’t it? I like to shop, Im REALLY good at getting great quality clothing from the smorgasbord of fabric that is being thrown at me, right?

Wrong. So wrong. But so very naive as well. I would like to welcome you to the world of buying. The world of vendor negotiations, purchase order tracking, excel spreadsheets that could make economists faint, and most importantly, fashion shows and the art of entertainment. Welcome to the vortex that is both art and science.

It took me about a year to understand what was really happening, as it does most people who arrive in NYC both wide eyed and ready to pursue their dreams. What I didn’t realize was that to be a good buyer you had to be a great observer of behavior, and trend, and current events, and market demographics, but most importantly, you needed to have an eye for the future.

"Yes, there is such a thing as over accessorizing"- said my senior buyer to my merchandise assistant on day 5

“Yes, there is such a thing as over accessorizing”- said my senior buyer to my merchandise assistant on day 5

From the bohemian Brooklyn girl that swears by David Foster Wallace, to the aspiring East Village writer who lives off of ramen, to the sorority sisters and fraternity brothers of the Murray Hill wasteland, New York was full of people waiting to be observed. And observe I did. You see, when you observe fashion in New York, you observe fashion from all over the world. It is this interest in wearable art- the highest degree of wearable fashion- that the industry derives it’s cult like following from. Essentially it is what keeps many of us in. So, like most new buyers to the realm I had no idea that it would only take a couple of vendor outings, a couple of domestic and international shows, a free gift or two and you can understand why I spent most of my nights sleeping beneath  our vendor sent frettee gift sets for this life. It begins with a calculator, a curious mind, and one fashion week party and that is it my friends, that is how most of us end up here.