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 naïve 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.