'You need to have creative vision'

Lindsey Friedman, 27, is a product development manager at John Lewis department store in London, where she is in charge of buying men's branded casualwear.

What do you actually do?

I work with clothing suppliers to select and build the perfect range of clothes for our target customer. I need to find the right balance between choosing some quirky, on-trend fashion pieces, as well as other clothes, such as classic white T-shirts, which I know will sell really well. A lot of the job involves building relationships with our suppliers, negotiating prices and making sure that deliveries of new stock arrive on time. I also work with department managers and a merchandising team within the store to build my vision.

What's your working pattern like?

It's very fast-paced. There are two key seasons: in January and February, I buy clothes for the following autumn in six months' time, and in August, I buy clothes for the coming spring collection. During those seasons, I travel to a lot of trade shows in Barcelona and Florence on big buying trips. Day to day, I usually get in at about 8.30am and work until 6.30pm.

I look at budgets and gross profits, and work out how much I have to spend and how much I need to make in sales for the year. I also keep an eye on sales, monitoring our bestselling clothes and getting them back on to the shop floor quickly, before they sell out.

What's the best thing about it?

The most satisfying thing for me has been building my department into a credible fashion destination. People often think about John Lewis as just a place to buy their cushions, so we've had to shout about the fact that we do fashion, not just homeware. When you've spent months planning a new collection, seeing it hit the shop floor is so exciting. It's amazing when we take a gamble and include a quirky, unusual look and it takes off and sells really well.

What's not so great about it?

It's my job to stay on top of the trends and create newness. If I want to try out a new brand, I have to drop an existing brand, even if we've always had a long working relationship. That can be unpleasant. You have to take the emotion out of it and remember that it's business. On the other side, we're playing catch-up in fashion terms, and sometimes we get rejected too. There are cool brands of clothing that we'd like to sell that don't want too many accounts, so they won't let us stock them.

What skills do you need to be a great buyer?

Any type of fashion degree is a good way to start – my degree was in textiles and apparel management. But the main thing is to get retail experience by working on the shop floor. You need to be really enthusiastic and motivated. You have to be strategic, analytical and very well- organised, and you need to have a creative vision of what the perfect collection should look like. And you also need to be numerate, because you need to balance your budget.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be a buyer?

The first thing is to get some retail experience. Many big department stores run executive training programmes, and if you can get a place on one, it will move you up the ladder very quickly, from being a buyer's administrative assistant, to an assistant buyer to a junior buyer. You need to keep on top of the fashion industry and keep reading fashion magazines. Learn as much as you can about the product you are buying, and think about the target customer you are selling to.

What's the salary and career path like?

At the lower end, a buyer's administrative assistant might earn £20,000 a year, but an experienced buyer might earn more than £40,000. You can work your way up to become a buying manager for a department store, or move into the supply side. Tons of people dream of opening boutiques, but it's very risky.

 

For more information on careers in fashion buying, visit the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply at www.cips.org; or Skillsmart Retail, the SectorSkills Council for Retail at www.skillsmartretail.com

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