Whilst many people want to get into the fashion industry there’ll always be an assumption with some people that you have to be either creative, artsy or have insane knowledge about product, and so for that reason they tend not to try. Well within multiple fields that’s definitely not the case, obviously it can help, especially knowledge about product, but it’s not essential. This being the case in the first field within the industry i’ll talk about, merchandising.
So i’ve personally worked in merchandising for coming up to 5 years now, first in general merchandise and then moving into men’s luxury fashion for the past year. The Merchandiser is fundamentally the partner in crime to the buyer, so when the buyer goes to meet the brands to pick out products during market they’ll do so with a targeted spend and product count in mind. That’s been determined by the merchandiser. You can to an extent break down the role down into three fundamentals; the analysis of the current and historical seasons which build up to planning future ranges, the wssi (which is effectively your sales forecast for the season) and the ordering/management of po’s (purchase order) for your department.
Going into more detail about the analysis side, this is the most interesting aspect of the job as it’s for the most part,(along with general trends) what actually crafts your range. You tend to start off by looking at how your current range has performed by brand, by product type, by price point, by colour etc, stacking all of these attributes as you drill down to see what has underperformed and needs to be cut along with what has over-performed and needs more focus. When judging how well a product has done there’s several different perspectives to have, for example, you can look at sales to see what the best/worst selling product was or you could look at sell-through (which is the percentage that you’ve sold of your ordered amount). Once you’ve highlighted the pros and cons of your current range you can then plan your strategy for the next season around those point, giving the buyers a foundation to go off to brands with and try and get the optimal range.
The next key aspect of the role are the financials behind it, when planning the strategy for the season as mentioned before you’ll have to plan spends and sales behind each brand, for example X amount behind Gucci, X behind Balenciaga and X behind Prada. You then roll up all your brands sales and that is what you’re forecasting to take for the whole season. However the difficult part is planning what month and what weeks you’ll take those sales. That’s where the WSSI (weekly sales, stock and intake) comes into play. This varies from company to company but every company will have it it. It’s basically a system that allows you to plan your sales, intake and margin the three key metrics by week and then roll it up by period (month), each department does this and then that is what forms your businesses sales forecast for the season/year. At the end of each month you’ll go over your original planned sales, and see how you performed against it the previous month and then whether you actually need to change it going forward, so it’s always a work in progress!
The final part which is more prominent at the entry levels but has major consequences if not done correctly is the ordering and intake side of things. The orders are normally placed by the buying team after their brand meetings during market, however after that stage the responsibility then falls onto the entry level merchandiser. They have to consistently communicate with brands to ensure that not only they deliver within the window, but pressure them to get it in as early as possible whilst maintaining a strong relationship. Making sure your deliveries are always ahead of last year is key, and alongside this is a similar fashion to forecasting your sales by week you have to forecast your intake to make sure the depots have a good view of when to expect deliveries etc.
So fundamentally the merchandiser role is one of the furthest from a stereotypical fashion role but is one that is always at the core of every company whether it’s a retailer or a brand. It make lack some of the creative side that often draws people to fashion but still allows you to work extremely closely to the product, the brands whilst dictating the strategy of the company going forward. For anyone that enjoys numbers and analysis but still wants to work in the fashion field this is definitely a great option to consider!