When I graduated in 1997 I knew I wanted to work in a commercial organisation, and with a business focused marketing degree I managed to secure a place on the Kingfisher Management Development Scheme. Taking a year out for travelling, I returned refreshed and ready to get stuck into the world of retail.
In September 1998, I began the two-year graduate scheme, starting with a six-month placement as a Trainee Retail Manager, moving over to become an Assistant Product Manager the following year. The scheme placed emphasis on rotating into three different placements – I was keen to try out the marketing/retail/product elements and the graduate scheme allowed me to do this.
I even tried out the merchandising side for nine months, which involved developing promotional packs and working closely with the buying teams.
During a restructure, I found my focus shift towards the buying side, and so when the scheme ended I went to work in Comet, the electrical goods store owned by Kingfisher at the time.
Starting out as an Assistant Buyer, I soon released the flat structure which existed at the time meant it would be a slow progression to reach the role of Buyer. The role of Junior Buyer, which has now been put into place, was non-existent for me, so after two years I moved over to Argos based in Milton Keynes.
A catalogue of progression
My time at Comet had reaffirmed that electrical goods was not the area I wanted to specialise in. I began in Argos as an Assistant Buyer in lounge furniture, a totally new product range. Here I was responsible for looking at design briefs and examining trends in the market.
Progression was fast and within nine months I had progressed to Junior Buyer in the lighting department. As a Junior Buyer, I was expected to spot the latest trends and work with suppliers to introduce new products into Argos stores. I visited competitors, making trips to London to spot the latest colour, style and pattern as well as conducting customer research. Suppliers would offer their insights and advice too.
From lighting, I swiftly moved up the ladder, becoming a Buyer in bedroom furniture. Having learnt a great deal in my four years at Argos, and having created a niche area of expertise for myself, it was time to try a new retailer.
Sainsbury’s beckoned in 2006, a time when it was just starting to introduce non-food product lines. A former Argos colleague was now heading up a department within Sainsbury’s, and I was ready to take on the challenge of working in a non-food section within the grocery sector. And I believed I could make a real difference here.
I became a Senior Buyer within kitchen appliances at Sainsbury’s, responsible for buying mobile phones and small domestic appliances. In August 2007 a major expansion of the home and lifestyle division was announced, doubling the size of the team and necessitating a move to Coventry.
Since joining Sainsbury’s, my role has grown to overseeing another Buyer and a Category Assistant. Every week is extremely busy and very varied – Mondays invariably involve crunching numbers, analysing the previous week’s sales and working out what to do if any products aren’t selling at the rate they should or how to get more of those that are.
My work is varied but mainly consists of presenting sales and profit budgets, working with suppliers to create product ranges and promotion, negotiating prices, working with logistics and retail departments and keeping an eye on our competitors activities.
Communication is a huge part of the job, with lots of face-to-face, phone and email contact with colleagues and suppliers, sharing information and following up on whatever needs to be done to ensure the smooth running of the category. The majority of my time is spent in the office but I do go out to visit Sainsbury’s stores, competitors’ stores and suppliers – some in the UK and some in the Far East.
The proudest moment of my career so far was seeing the ‘Be Good to Yourself’ range hitting the shelves in kitchen appliances. In the last three years, sales have doubled in my sector, and there is such a buzz to this job when you see the sales figures as new products hit the stores.
Tough times ahead
We are facing challenging times at the moment and it will be difficult for all retailers across the UK. The cost price pressure is immense, all driven by the price of oil as well as the increase in the price of plastic, metal and steel. However, it is my job to ensure we give customers the best possible value and have the right offers and promotions, all of which involves planning ahead.
Sourcing the best prices, challenging domestic suppliers and negotiating with factories will become even more crucial going forward.
As for me, I am always highly receptive to change and new challenges. Over the years I have learnt that if you work hard and stay positive, success will follow, especially with a good team behind you.
I will continue to move up the buying ladder, hopefully becoming a Category Manager or even moving into a food role. Depending on what comes up, I would be excited to take on new projects in the future.
Will you make a good Buyer?
- Are you organised? There are so many things you have to remember and keeping on top of everything as well as maintaining accuracy, is paramount.
- Can you react quickly? The nature of retail is remaining competitive, so if a competitor drops their price, you have to react immediately. If a VAT change occurs, you need to put this into place.
- Do you have a questioning mind? Get out into stores (a small, medium and large store) and ask yourself what you would do differently. What is selling? Compare prices and question why products are on the shelves and what you could do to improve sales. Monitor customer reactions and constantly query. It’s all about not accepting the ‘norm’.