Sunday, 20 December 2015

The eighty twenty rule

The eighty twenty rule

A point of consideration that should never be ignored is the eighty twenty rule, also known as the Pareto principle where it is acknowledged that eighty percent of the result is delivered by twenty percent of the effort or participants.
In the context of stores it is probable that twenty percent of the stores deliver eighty percent of the sales and deserve the proportionate dedication of energy and focus, as does the thick middle sizes such as medium and large and therefore should always be in stock. Core base colours such as white, black, naturals and greys also contribute largely to the sales and should always be evident in volume. It is clear that certain styling features will likewise guarantee the bulk of sales and should be finalised first and certain peak trading periods such as holidays or special events will contribute largely to the total seasonal sales and must be managed very carefully in terms of production planning and delivery scheduling.

It should be qualified that it is not necessarily exactly a ratio of eighty versus twenty as in certain cases it could be a ninety to ten or seventy to thirty relationship but nevertheless the principle still holds true.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

TRAINING PRINCIPLES

One of the common requirements of each role that has been outlined is that in order to achieve the highest degree of proficiency there should be a structured methodology of training which will include on the job training where the incumbent is mentored by a qualified and experienced more senior specialist who in turn has had exposure to effective training methods and performance management techniques. Ideally as the trainee progresses they will take on the responsibility for a small section of their department in order to gain the confidence and skills that will stand them in good stead going forward and also serve as a contingency in the event of the loss of senior personnel.
Coupled to on the job training is the formal classroom style lecturing as is necessary and can be performed by either internal or external tutors who will provide the theory that is matched to that which has been learnt on the job. This is of great importance as it is not uncommon that with on the job training exclusively the poor habits of the trainer are frequently transferred downwards.
Equally important is for new appointees to have an understanding and appreciation of the roles of their counterparts in other areas of the business. In order for this to be achieved they should spend adequate time attached to specialists in other fields. An example would be where a buyer in training would need to spend time in stores interacting with customers, at suppliers, with merchandisers, technologists, the marketing team and packaging specialists, in the warehouse and with the logistical experts including forwarding agents. These attachments should be well thought out with specific objectives in mind and followed up in formal reviews in front of a panel of experts from each area who test their understanding. An independent representative from human resources should also be present to ensure that the consistency of standards applied across the business is maintained and the assessment is objective without any personal bias of trainers subjectively influencing the conclusions either positively or negatively.

Overall, in order to guarantee the creation of professional teams is that the training needs to be consistent and that the outcomes deliver broadly the same standard of qualified appointees. An outstanding illustration of this is where the customer enjoys the same high level of service from sales personnel in whatever store they frequent or suppliers enjoy similar levels of proficiency across different buying teams.   

Friday, 18 December 2015

NEW BOOK RELEASE - FUNDAMENTALS OF SUCCESSFUL AND SUSTAINABLE FASHION BUYING AND MERCHANDISING - Charles Nesbitt



The book outlines the fundamental principles and mechanisms that are applied in fashion retailing and illustrates as to how the major tasks and roles intertwine from the conceptualisation of the product through to the presentation of a finished garment to the customer and in doing so demonstrates how the key functions such as design, buying, merchandising, technology, production, logistics and selling each with their unique specialised operations manage to achieve this.
It will be particularly beneficial to students and those who are maybe considering a career in the industry. Individuals who are already part of the fashion buying and merchandising community will find this book to be invaluable in that it provides a complete simplified overview of all the integral activities and roles that go to make up the topic and thereby will provide a broader insight into their own career.

                                                                        

CHARLES NESBITT graduated with a degree in Economics specialising in Business Economics from Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He spent thirty five years at a leading retailer in Southern Africa where he was exposed to all the key disciplines of retailing during this period.

Check it out at

Friday, 25 September 2015

Reputation building

Together with the increased usage of social media clear distinction has developed between the brand building objective and that of the management of the retailer’s reputation which in the case of larger retailer’s management structures have been put in place to perform this task. A reservoir of goodwill needs to grow in order to enhance their reputation in the eyes of the consumer’s and this is done effectively through the use of social media as a vehicle. In the same way that negative comments may be potentially destructive when issues arise, it is evident that where the reputation quotient is high the level of criticism is less severe. The focal points of reputation measurements are the retailer stacks up in terms of trust, esteem, the feeling they instill and admiration for the way they operate in the field of not only the product performance and innovation but also that of their workplace environment, the decent governance they uphold and the moral citizenship they display in the community.

Loyalty programmes

Loyalty programmes are very popular through the rewarding the customer either in the form of points, coupons or discount at till points. Such programmes are not only extremely effective in significantly improving sales and profits but also permit the retailer to analyse the buying habits of the customer in detail and consequently  are able to better service the consumer needs. It also enables the retailer to build a data base through which they can communicate directly in terms of highlighting special offers, the awarding of gift vouchers for special events such as birthdays with the customer through various channels such as newsletters, e-mail, social media and the post. Examples of such programmes are not only to reward for purchases above a certain amount but may also be for first time buyers, freebies such as, one get one free while some are targeted at specific categories of product and account holders. The objective of a good loyalty programme strategy should be to attract and keep new customers, entrench relationships with existing customers and heighten brand awareness and not necessarily simply just a service for those discount hungry customers who see such incentives as a means to save money.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The retail selling options

The retail selling options 

There are many ways to expose your product to the customer in the hope that they will make a favourable decision and purchase your wares. More often than not the nature of the product will influence the type of channel that is selected but whatever format that the retail store takes it still is very simply a part of the integrated supply chain whereby goods are purchased in large quantities directly from a manufacturer or maybe from a wholesaler, trading house or agent and then sell on in smaller quantities to the end user. Retailing can be done in the more traditional fixed locations like stores or markets but in recent years there have been more innovative ways of selling the product such as “pop up” shops whereby a temporary location is used in a busy environment which is possibly a sports event, trade show or similar location where large volumes of potential customers are present. It is also an easy way of promoting goods or the carrying out of special launches. 
In the modern era of technology the internet is probably the fastest growing medium to sell product. Online websites now exist for all types of goods and all the major retailers as well as dedicated online retailers are spending large amounts of money to set up their sites in such a way that they are the most user friendly, faster and the most attractive with secure, easy payment methods. Door to door deliveries are carried out by a sophisticated courier services from some highly efficient distribution centres or withdrawals of stock from brick and mortar stores that are in close proximity to the online customer. The challenge that customers do have is that they do not have the facility to try on the garments so retailers devise some convenient options for the provision of special services. International purchases in foreign currencies is also relatively easy to do and receive the parcels in a reasonable period of time.
Closely linked to shopping on line is the digital download of product from the retailer website to the customer computer such as music, films, books and subscriptions to magazines.
Marketing teams utilise various types of techniques to effectively expose the product in the most attractive way to the market. Traditional channels in the form of print, radio, television, in house magazines, flyers, and point of sale material, even the use of innovative medium such as the use of permeating fragrances which assist in order to enhance the shopping experience. The well-used posters and bill boards, scratch cards and the like are still very prominent in varying formats. However in increasing proportions is the creative use of the electronic channels in the form of websites, SMS, E-Mail and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  The scientific collection of customer data through the electronic media allows the customer profiles to be analysed and targeted in a more scientific way. Loyalty programmes are very popular through the rewarding the customer either in the form of points for reward and be used as a means of transaction or immediate discount at till point. Such programmes are not only extremely effective in significantly improving sales and profits but they also allow the retailer to interpret in detail the buying habits of the customer and consequently thereby are able to better service the consumer needs.
While shopping generally refers to the activity of simply buying product it has become very much a recreational activity whereby a visit to the shopping mall becomes a wonderful experience which may or may not result in any purchase being made. Some malls may have added attractions such as theatres, ice skating rinks, stages for entertainment and even larger magnetisms such as aquariums and fun parks while facilities such as gyms are not an uncommon appendage. Restaurant and fast food eateries are an integral part and are often included in centrally located food halls and are always represented by the major brands as well specialised restaurants.
The anchor tenants are the major retailers who are seen as the crowd pullers. Large food chains together with typical mass clothing retailers while other chain stores such as general chains provide the bulk of hard and specialist goods such as electronics and appliances, stationery, furnishings, jewelry and sports shops. A complex combination of line shops who derive their name due to the fact that they line the interlinking walkways between the major tenants are like the fish feeding off the major chains and tend to be more exclusive in their offerings. The rentals are usually at a much higher rate and the closest adjacency to a major tenant comes at a premium. Line shops will include service shops such as hairdressers, opticians, beauticians and even tattoo parlours. Specialized stores such as the traditional chemist are finding it more and more challenging as the emerging trend amongst some major chains to include a dispensary counter in their store and malls includes a supermarket format of a chemist. Apart from eateries the typical line shop will offer exclusive product and offer specialised service. Some of commonly seen stores are boutiques, dedicated outdoor gear retailers, accessory specialists, luggage shops, photographic outlets and religious retailers selling inspirational product making up more or less the balance. What is also evolving to a greater degree is the presence of international chains and brands from all over the world which has become increasingly easy for stores to open due to greater technologies and exposure both from an IT perspective as well as efficient transport methodologies.
Other options in the malls include the barrow type stores such as ties and accessories and specialized delicacy outlets. Vending machines which are an automated piece of equipment wherein customers can drop the money in the machine and acquire the products are also popular.
Malls are strategically positioned close to residential dense areas and the science of the mix of line shops supported by the major tenants will be largely influenced by the demographics of the area that it serves. Such malls may be supported by adjacent discount shopping centres which mostly include many clothing, shoes and factory outlet stores. Factory outlets enable manufacturers or traders to market over runs, rejects, problem lines at reduced prices in locations that enjoy lower rentals. Liquor outlets, hardware stores and nurseries are also frequently seen adjacent to the main shopping complex.
While the mall has largely been the cause of the demise of the “high street” store as many major chain store have succumbed to and their operations have consequently closed or relocated to the shopping centres. However, there is still a place for these stores predominantly in the city centres and in certain cities there is a reverse trend where there is a density of office workers and the growing inclination to live within the city centre as can be seen by the fact that many office blocks have been transformed into apartment blocks.
Traditional general stores and co-operatives serving everything for the community and mom and pop family run shops who purchased from the travelling salesman most commonly found in the rural areas are now very far and few between. Centralized shopping locations with all the relevant chains being represented and the influx of the discount shops specialising in goods from the East some of which have originated from dubious sources in almost every town has sadly relegated these stores to being romantic memories of the past. There is however an emergence of independent stores who serve niche markets with specialised product such as outsizes, maternity wear, high end knitwear and excusive footwear.
Franchise stores offer the opportunity for individual traders to invest in a mass retail group and enjoy the benefit of the support from the chain’s branding, quality products and marketing strategies. The advantage for the franchisee is that the expansion and market penetration can be accelerated with external investment and they enjoy a commission for goods sold without the risk of stock holding costs, overheads and staffing expenses.
Traditional stores where historically the goods were kept in walk-in counters with goods often being displayed behind glass and in drawers with sales assistants serving the customer from within the unit and manned the till stationed at each counter. While this way of serving customers was very effective from the customer interaction point of view it soon became unsustainable due to the demands of mass retailing and convenience for the customer.
Courtesy of Woolworths South Africa archives – first store opened in 1931 in Plein Street, Cape Town
The newer formats of stores are well lit, uncluttered and appealing to the customer. They house easy to access product which is in sufficient quantities with well demarcated information through attractive signage. Displays whether on shelves, tables or garment rails are well thought out and coordinated in cameo presentations which suggest to the customer how the product pieces can be worn together in terms of lifestyle and colouration. Displays are adjacent to similar customer needs, for example women’s skirts will be located close to the blouse displays which will be adjacent to the ladies trousers. The ladies outerwear will most likely next to the lingerie department and ladies shoes leading into ladies sleepwear. There will also be a thread of the chosen similar colour themes throughout which is being promoted at that point in time. The personal interaction with the customer by any staff member whether they are the sales assistants or management can never be substituted. Service remains of paramount importance in ensuring that they can illustrate to the customer the ways in which styles and colours of the different components can tastefully be worn.  There are focus displays which may be located in highly visible areas such as aisles, window displays or walls which are regularly changed as new product is received. Seasonal changes, special events, promotional activity and colour themes are typically introduced in this way sustaining the impact of newness, freshness and excitement. The customer not only has a pleasant experience considering the suggestion but the opportunity of a sale is maximised.
Various principles are also supported by visual merchandisers who create coordinated cameo displays, whether they are window or within the store, including video screens as well as static mannequins.
Pay points and change rooms are conveniently placed and the design of these units are such that they lessen the frustration that comes with the inevitable waiting periods.
The need for refurbishment and revitalisation of stores and displays is an ongoing process, which although being costly, regularly presents the customer a fresh and exciting environment to enjoy the shopping experience and avoid being faced with stale, run down and drab looking stores that undermine even the most attractive merchandise.
As with the buying teams, the selling teams also consist of a mix of skills that are coordinated in such a way that the customer has the most satisfying shopping experience.
The team is spearheaded by the head of the store known usually as the store general manager. This position maybe supported by an assistant position and they will ensure that the overall co-ordination of all the roles will ensure the most effective running of the operation. A classic structure that they will support will consist of commercial or departmental managers who will each be responsible for a segment of the store. The role will focus on ensuring that the displays are continually fully stocked and that they are optimally positioned and displayed proportionately appropriate to the customer demand. By way of illustration the most popular product will normally be in the front of the racks and displayed at eye level of the customer. The size of the display will be proportionate to the relative demand, in other words in the ideal world a product that represents twenty percent of the sales will enjoy twenty percent of the space of the relevant display area. Exceptions to this principle may occur where the product may be bulky and may require to be pallet stacked on the floor.  An example of this would possibly be nappies, duvets and cushions.
The challenge is to ensure that there is the optimum number of well trained, knowledgeable and positive staff that can best serve the customers without the overhead costs being put under pressure.  The best service disposition should apply right through the experience from the time that the customer is greeted at the front door until the transaction is finalised at the till point and the customer leaves the store.  The objective should always be that the customer will always look forward to returning to the store. Even where a sale may not materialize the offering of advice or helping with choosing alternatives is part and parcel of the creation and reinforcement of the loyalty to the brand is consequently embedded in the customer’s mind.

Selling teams are supported by other staff functions such as the human resource officer who will be responsible for the personnel functions as well as the shift scheduling of staff. This function is imperative to ensure optimum staffing appropriate to the variable number of customers over the various times during the day, week month and year of trade. A flexible, part time work force is required which can be above two thirds of the total store staff and because some of the hours of work are unsocial such as weekend or after normal hours variable rates of remuneration or extra time off will apply.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Technology - the role of the technologist in the clothing retail buying team:

Technology - the role of the technologist in the clothing retail buying team:

Technical Teams consist broadly of the fabric and garment technologists. Fabric technologists are highly trained specialists who focus on typically woven or knitted disciplines. Specialised products such as knitwear, tailoring and footwear require added knowledge of components and specific production machinery.
A major portion of the fabric technologist’s task is the development and innovation of new fabrics and the enhancement of existing products. New fibres and blends of fibres such as the blending of natural and synthetic fibres, addition of chemicals to finishing process will possibly lead to new inventions and improvements such as better washability, softer handles, easy care properties such as easy to iron, crease resistant finishes, rot resistant applications, seamless or seams that are glued that allow for smoother  looks particularly for under garments, the evolvement of elastane products such as lycra which revolutionised active and casual wear and the enhancement of thermal properties of winter undergarments.  The success of such developments which will add to the profitability as well as the form and function necessitates a close working relationship with suppliers, mills and value adders.
Garment technology have the responsibility to ensure that the make-up of the garment meets the set down criteria and the componentry such as buttons, interlinings and threads are of the standard that is functional and are not inferior. All factories have specified technological capability which has been built around the production of a particular category of garments which vary from factory to factory or even within the same plant. The garment technologist must understand this implicitly and exploit it to its fullest. The relationship with the commercial team is sometimes strained as the ideal level of form and function can be challenged by the need to market the product at the most commercially competitive price.
The objective of the garment technologist is to ensure that quality is not compromised. The tasks that are involved in achieving this can be varied such as the assessment of new or potential manufacturers and fabric mills to ensure that the established standards are met, the specification of raw materials, the overseeing of sampling stages and ensuring that any delays that may result through the process do not compromise the delivery prerequisites. Consequently a close functioning relationship with the merchandising and buying team members must be in place.
In ensuring that the all quality standards are met particularly through the inspection of garments, inspectors need to possess specific skills. They need to be ethical, sincere and honest, open mindedly being willing to consider alternatives, diplomatic and tactful in their dealings with people, should be able to actively observe their surroundings as well as perceive and adapt to varying situations.
The technologist has an intimate knowledge of the supplier base through historical knowledge as well as from continually researching new and existing suppliers. As the sourcing specialist they have to guide buying teams in the selection of the most appropriate manufacturer for the various types of product. It is also very essential that they are aware of the fabric prominence for the forthcoming season as dictated by the strategies and budget levels to ensure that there is sufficient capacities at the relevant mills to meet the overall demands without compromising quality. The task of assessing potentially new suppliers is a role that may be included in the stable of the technical team or it may be hived off to defined sourcing specialists who are knowledgeable team members that know the strengths and weaknesses of suppliers and based on this where best to place orders accordingly.
Suppliers are assessed on various criteria such as their management infrastructure, financial stability, specialised equipment availability, fabric specialty, levels of innovation, fashion or basic production orientated, the other retailers they serve, flexibility of cost negotiability and social responsibility policies. Other external factors that may well influence the selection of suppliers could be those like prevailing exchange rates, remuneration policies and physical locality.
The significance must be emphasised that the diverse buying teams all have to have a clear informed understanding of each other’s roles and priorities and that they are aligned to ensure all their tasks are integrated to achieve the goal of delivering consistent quality products manufactured by appropriately skilled suppliers on time all the time. This is especially imperative in the case of more complex products such as corsetry, tailored garments and knitwear.

The handling, packaging, storage and movement of the product through the supply channels has to be done in such a way that the quality of the product is not allowed to deteriorate in any way whatsoever. As some product is sourced from more distant locations a newer trend is to contract the technical function out to approved independent technical service providers or to trusted garment and fabric suppliers themselves who understand and are committed to the standards required. These service providers are thereby able to approve samples, perform quality control and be responsible for the eventual release of the finished product.

Merchandisers - the role of the merchandiser in the retail buying team

Merchandisers - the role of the merchandiser in the retail buying team

The merchandiser/planner applies their focus on maximizing profitability from the business end. This is done largely through the analysis of historical sales and the influence of the trend direction to determine the range categories and product breakdown within the overall sales budget. The role needs to determine what stock levels are required to meet the preset targets such as seasonal stock turnover or forward stock covers based on the sales trends over time. Knowing these requirements the merchandiser will determine what the intake or purchase quantities required at any point in time in the season for the total department and each product category.
The level of the budgets will determine the quantity of options in terms of styling, colour palette, size spans, pricing structure and levels of quality per category that will best service the customer for the time that the goods are expected be on offer prior to a new variety of product being introduced in line with the strategic predetermined seasonal themes.
The merchandiser’s job has to be to provide guidance to the buyer to buy within the budget parameters. In short it can be described as providing the buyer with a shopping list or range plan that allows them to go out and fill in the blanks on the plan while procuring product. This activity requires the careful management of the “open to buy” which can often be a source of tension between the buyer who always tends to want more and the merchandiser who holds the purse strings. A good deal of emotional maturity and teamwork on both sides is therefore critical for a successful partnership.
Sadly the merchandising role is often branded as a dull, boring number crunching task in accordance with mathematical calculations while it is in fact can be a creative manipulation of numbers that is highly rewarding when positive trade results are achieved or alternatively equally as depressing when these do not materialise. The role can be likened to that of a husband who places his entire salary on a dead cert horse which was by no means appreciated by his wife. However when the horse won he was similarly unpopular for not putting more money on the horse!
As with the buying role, the merchandiser deals with different activities simultaneously as part of the team across a number of seasons and therefore requires high levels of multi-tasking and re-prioritising in the forward planning, critical milestone management, analysis and timeous action implementation. As the actual trade takes place the results need to be carefully analysed and immediate action plans initiated in order to maximise the opportunities and minimise the levels of markdowns that erode the profits. For these reasons they need to be logical, reliable, are consistent and take decisions based on fact.
The regular timeous generation of reports on sales analysis, stock levels and forward planning needs to be distributed to all team members and to senior management. Often numeric information and commercial analysis is demanded on an immediate ad-hoc basis which adds pressure to the job function and can be very disruptive to routines and in such situations the merchandiser is expected to adapt quickly and effectively.  The merchandiser plays an integral role during the presentation at product reviews from the numbers to perspective which influences the agreed product mix and justification of the levels of sales budgets.
The merchandiser needs to have a detailed understanding of the stores and the customer profile of the respective stores that would best meet the requirements of the ranges in terms of styling, colour and size that are put on offer within the space constraints. The saying “to plan each store as if is your own” could never be truer. With sophisticated IT development and the availability of various software packages, some of which may be developed exclusively for the retailer, will provide quick sales analysis, production planning and afford the ability to make sound decisions based on accurate data. This information is especially necessary to give guidance to the allocator or distributor who will be sending the appropriate quantities to satisfy the store’s needs as well as to give guidance as to the level of repeat buys for products that are trading above expectations.
Some organisational structures do differentiate the function between the merchandiser who focuses on the forecasting and production planning and that of the allocator or location planner who will be responsible to distribute the product to the stores in the most suitable combinations of styles, colour and sizes that meet the store profiles. This function can be housed as an extension within the buying division or may be part of a separate centralised group where an allocator may be responsible for a diverse number of departments. The benefits of such a centralised structure is that there could be a cost saving benefit especially where smaller departments do not warrant a dedicated staff member but added to this is a  pool of  knowledge which develops a highly skilled team who are able to cross pollinate information, coordinate inter departmental promotions effectively and develop consistent techniques and skills. The identification of common emerging trends will contribute to the optimisation of sales and assist in the control of stock quantities at a very detailed level and thereby maximise profits. Close connections to the departmental merchandisers is maintained to ensure that their actions are aligned to the departmental strategy and plans.
The need for the diversification of the function also makes more sense from the point of view that where the distribution function is retained within the department it inevitably adds to the increasing workload of the planner which has more and more been tremendously impacted on by the development, implementation and mastering of complex and sophisticated information systems that analyse sales and stock with added forward planning functionalities.
Many such systems are able to integrate with other supporting IT systems such as supplier performance, technological measurement, critical path management, ordering, logistical and store systems. The added management of a detailed complex allocation system that is needed to move the stock to stores is more difficult with the result that the incumbent is in danger of being drawn into concentrating on the coping with the trifling detail. The possibility of losing sight of the bigger objectives as set out in the strategy and operational plans and the degrading of the inherent merchant intuition becomes very real.
The merchandiser needs to effectively manage and develop the merchandising team which can, not unlike the buying role, consist of an assistant merchandiser and/or trainee who aspire to be a merchandiser.
The cohesion of activities has to be synchronized based on actual sales performance through the formalised interaction with other stakeholders such as the buyers and technologists. This contact is usually in the form of regular, typically weekly departmental meetings where corrective decisions and plans of action are agreed. Regular association with the points of sale in stores through written communications and reports as well as regular on site visits are critical to keep aligned with the customer’s preferences and emerging trends and confirm that the stores are sharing the same vision of the overall strategy.
The need to guide suppliers assertively in terms of prioritisation and the achievement of deadlines is critical to meet the suitable stock requirements at any point in time, particularly in relation to peak seasonal periods or key events. For example, once winter breaks, which it does every year except the exact date is not easy to predict, the objective is to have the right stocks in place such as knitwear, thermal underwear, scarves and the like in sufficient quantities to meet the rush. It is a known fact that women tend to plan winter wardrobes ahead of time for themselves and their children while males tend to rush in to purchase their winter wares when they feel cold. The challenge is therefore to have the appropriate quantities in the stores at the vital time while the maintenance of the balance of stocks must be adequate to cater for the demand without overstocking the stores ahead of planned stock targets. Events such as Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s day are easier to predict and the right levels of stock can be made more accurately available at the right time.

Where suppliers do not meet the required delivery dates the merchandiser needs to manage the consequences that have to be applied for the under performance. This can result in some very sensitive and emotional discussions and the negotiation of penalties such as discounts, sale or return agreements or even total cancellation will no doubt impact negatively on both parties.

Buyers - the role of the buyer in a clothing retail team:

Buyers - the role of the buyer in a clothing retail team: 

The buyer needs to have a clear insight of the product that is required which is in line with the trend guidelines best suited to their target customer profiles for both the high fashion segment as well as the more traditional customer. It is a fact that the role of the designer and the buyer may be a bit blurred in that they research the same fashion forecasting sites and other sources of inspiration in order to put a range of garments together. Both must be aware of sizing, quality and costs related to fabrics, trimmings and production. To achieve this they must be flexible to develop and buy the most suitable product that is aligned to the prescribed strategy and achieves the desired profit margin in keeping with the set down targets. The evaluation of competitive activity and product ranges through regular store visits and comparative shopping provides the knowledge required to keep ahead of the field. Effective communication and presentation skills are a prerequisite to brief and interact with suppliers as well as presenting product reviews to colleagues within their own group at all levels of seniority. With this comes the need to be able to accept criticism and resolve problems in a mature manner. The sad fact is that frequently when the analysis of the success of the range is evaluated at the end of the season if the results are disappointing it is not uncommon for the buyer to shoulder the emotional burden of the poor performance. The truth of the matter is that the range was presented on more than one occasion to all team players including senior management all of whom signed the range off but in the final analysis they are more often than not, as is human nature, reluctant to be accept any accountability.
Coupled to ability to understand the wants of the customer is the sourcing of the most suitable supplier that will be selected for the specified product types in terms of their particular skills, technical ability, costing efficiency, attitude, transparency, honesty, focus on quality, communications and competitiveness while still meeting the ethical criteria that are acceptable to society. A large part of the task will be to maintain good relations with suppliers, while being able to assertively negotiate prices with them and make sure the planned stocks are delivered on time. Communications need to be clear and specific to avoid disputes over issues which may arise through vague and confusing messages. For these reasons they need to be confident, take decisions based on results and be driven by a sense of urgency.
The buyer has to be multi-talented in that as well as being  creative  they also need to  monitor the sales objectively and be flexible enough to react accordingly in terms of turning on or turning off production and transferring fabric and components to more appealing product styles where sales performance and fast emerging trends dictate. What is key to be a successful buyer is the ability to work as part of the overall team and influence the rest of the team’s activities which could be in the form of a managerial and developmental capacity and could include both their peers and superiors. The display of emotional maturity and commercial acumen within the controlled parameters as set by the merchandising arm in terms of the budgets, the number of product options and display space constraints is absolutely essential. The same principle applies to the relationships that need to be maintained with the technical teams with regard to the use of the most appropriate fabrics that meet the product form and function demands in addition to ensuring that the brand standards of the garment are observed. The fact that potentially the buyer together with the other retail players will be dealing with three to four seasons simultaneously at different stages for each season makes their task even more complicated. To clarify the phenomenon a bit further the journey of this book attempts to describe the process from beginning to end for one season but while trading in the current season the thoughts and strategies are being developed and documented for two seasons to possibly three seasons ahead followed by the range development leading up to the production taking place for next upcoming season.
The ability to evaluate vast amounts of information from various sources much of which originates from complex IT systems can present a challenge to those who are not analytically minded. Systems have altered the scope of the traditional buyer from being a pure “touchy feely art skill” to having to develop basic technical abilities through the continual emergence of innovative systems that have become a great benefit to the role. Some buyer’s such as those for knitwear, ladies structured underwear, tailoring and footwear will require more expert fabric and garment construction knowledge of their respective industries in comparison to individuals who select more straightforward cut, make and trim products such as dresses, blouses and casual trousers.
As the trade environment has become more global and through information technology development it is much faster, interactive and has enabled business to be done more effortlessly from a home base interacting with many different countries. Much of the trade is done amongst many new emerging countries which has led to a need for the urgency and nimbleness to locate the most effective plants that meet the quality requirements, asses the required technical abilities, understand the economic and cultural demands of the respective countries as well as the logistical peculiarities and government regulations that may exist. The method the sourcing of production has to take on different approaches as the pros and cons of dealing internationally need to be carefully weighed up against those of dealing with the ever diminishing number of local suppliers.  A critical factor is that suppliers must be ethical in terms of labour practices, remuneration, waste management, working conditions and safety. If such conditions are not met it is counter to the interests of the retailer to be associated with such suppliers  from both a moral point of view and the exposure of malpractices could lead to negative media reports and the retailer will suffer the consequences that accompany such deeds. The measurement of performance is therefore key to assessing the effectiveness of suppliers.
In larger organisations a buyer will probably be supported by an assistant buyer or trainee buyer who will normally be a person who wishes to pursue a career in the field. They will be largely responsible for the organisation of the ranges, some clerical work, preparing products for garment reviews, monitoring the development critical path and production milestones, liaising with suppliers, technology and deputizing for the buyer when they are out of the office.
A point to note is that the relationship between buyers and suppliers often develops into more than a purely business association due to the fact that they spend much time travelling together and working closely with one another building ranges.
Close familiar relationships frequently make it difficult to maintain a business like association for the mutual benefit of both parties and can cloud business decision making and judgment. The temptation of bribery and incentives in exchange for placing large orders may be induced. For newer na├»ve buyers the rule that the supplier is not your friend should be firmly applied simply because they are seduced by grandiose lunches and presents as many have unfortunately found out the hard way  when they move on and are no longer of great importance to the supplier.

A way of balancing the workloads or ranking buyers and merchandisers is to evaluate the actual number of suppliers, stock keeping units or bar codes being handled by each buyer and then make comparisons regarding workload and productivity of each buyer.

Designers - the role of designers in the clothing retail buying team

Designers - the role of designers in the clothing retail buying team: 
Designers have a deep insight into the market they are targeting through the analysis of the changing trends and use these to provide creative direction and develop product designs for the buying teams to consider.
Usually these participants tend to think out of the box and their creative minds can challenge some of the comfort zones of other team members. What must be kept top of mind is that they need to consistently apply the intellect way ahead of time of what they think the customer requires as opposed to their personal desires.
Typically the character traits that they will possess are that they are independent, spontaneous, extroverts, driven by ideas and confident.
Although the general perception of the word “designer” conjures up a vision of those who work at couture level, the reality is that it also includes those who are involved in creating ranges which may also be exclusive but will be more widely available and therefore be considered as having been mass produced. Their choices will be influenced by the type of retailer they work for or the product category they design for. The more traditional retailer serving more mature customers will be less influenced by radical fashion swings which in contrast will definitely affect the teen market high fashion boutiques more severely.
Work is done at times under immense pressure to meet critical deadlines, tough meeting schedules and frequent international travel. It is not surprising the perception is often that they live a life of glory and glamour but contrary to this belief it is not as glitzy as it is made out to be.
The fashion and trade shows whether they be yarn, fabric or garment shows are tiring affairs requiring hard work and stamina as is the shopping for appropriate samples, researching fashion magazines, the use of forecasting trend agencies, internet and blogs and out of this to possess the ability to then distill the emerging trends to create a storybook that will best suit their organisation’s customer profiles. The designer lives with the stress of knowing that their level of success will be measured by the eventual amount of money rung up on the till and getting the styling direction wrong or overextending the life of a particular look could have serious financial implications especially in the cases where volumes are high.
The real challenge is to convince the buying teams and senior management to buy into their vision and have the confidence that what they have in mind will be commercially acceptable to the customer. The designer cannot ignore the technical aspects of the garment production as many problems can be avoided if these are taken into consideration in the design process.
Retailers in the southern hemisphere do have the advantage that their seasons follow those of countries in the northern hemisphere which allows them to tap into the more successful designs trading in volume. However, with globalization this is not always as clear cut as it was in the past and the ability to follow as close to the season as possible requires techniques that enables the shortening of lead times and get the product to market as quickly as possible. Globalization and the advent of communications technologies such as satellite television, internet and social media have given exposure to different cultures, sports, films, lifestyles and trends such as specific events, health drives, environmental awareness and technology can have very significant impacts on trends which sometimes happen at very short notice.
A very important aspect that the designer must strictly adhere to is that of copyright where instances have occurred that other competitors garments are copied almost identically whether it be by style, print or design. Invariably the driving reason for this is the speed of being able to turn on a replica at a cheaper price. Although it may not be practical to register and copyright every design any infringement can still be challenged and a consequence could exist of having the offending garments being removed from display and destroyed.