Case study

Desserts and ice cream buying manager — Meg Anderson

Meg studied biological sciences at the University of Leeds but a passion for business and analytics led her to a career as a desserts and ice cream buying manager at Asda

Why did you decide on a career in retail?

I decided to transition from studying biological sciences to pursuing a career in the retail industry because I had a passion for business and analytics.

Buying was a role where I could apply my analytical skills and attention to detail, while enjoying the dynamic and fast-paced nature of the industry.

Additionally, I recognised the abundant job opportunities and potential for career growth that a role within a company like Asda provided.

How did you get your job?

I applied through the Asda graduate scheme website then underwent a video interview before attending the final assessment centre.

What kind of tasks do you carry out on a typical day?

My day-to-day consists of:

  • P&L management
  • promotional planning
  • supplier meetings
  • internal sales reporting.

What part of your job do you enjoy the most?

As the retail industry is vast, it requires regular engagement with both internal and external cross-functional teams. To ensure efficient working, it's important to build strong relationships with all key stakeholders.

I enjoy building a rapport with suppliers and learning about key priorities and operational processes within their business. As a result of the strong relationships, I take satisfaction from being able to collaboratively plan and subsequently execute activities that contribute to overall business growth. I take pride in knowing that, through my own positive initiative, I can be directly responsible for driving growth, while cementing key trading relationships and enhancing customer experience.

What are the challenges?

The challenges in buying include:

  • managing supplier relationships
  • navigating supply chain disruptions
  • controlling costs amidst inflationary pressures
  • planning and executing sales
  • driving promotional activity
  • maintaining competitive position versus market.

What type of person would suit a career as a buyer?

A career as a buyer typically suits individuals who possess strong analytical skills, attention to detail, and a strategic mindset. They should enjoy working with data, staying updated on market trends, and building relationships. Effective buyers are often decisive, adaptable, and able to thrive in fast-paced environments where they must make informed decisions to optimise processes and contribute to organisational success.

What are your career ambitions?

As someone who has progressed quickly to the role of buyer, my initial career ambitions include further honing my skills and expertise before moving on to a more senior role. Moving to another buying category within the business will support this goal.

 Alongside this, I'm interested in pursuing leadership development opportunities to enhance my leadership skills and effectively lead teams in achieving organisational goals. I'm currently mentoring a number of colleagues through the early stages of their buying career, which will serve as good practice ahead of progression to senior manager.

 The uniqueness of retail is that the industry is broad and there's an infinite amount to learn. Because of this, after becoming a subject matter expert within buying, I would like to move to the supplier side to further expand my understanding of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). I hope at this point, I'll be able to provide invaluable insight into buying strategies, which will allow me to empathetically develop external relationships and execute business initiatives.

What is one stereotype about working in retail that you’d like to debunk?

You live within a spreadsheet - while there are days where my eyes go square, there are many exciting and essential buying tasks that ensure you're not living a life devoted to spreadsheets.

I particularly enjoy going out into the field to visit supplier factories and stores to make sure I understand the context behind not only the numbers on the spreadsheet, but the food that sits within our kitchen cupboards. It's fascinating to see the scale of food production and provides great appreciation of the infrastructure of this unique industry.

Can you talk us through two issues currently affecting your area of work?

Rising inflation and cost pressures. Inflationary pressures, driven by factors such as increased transportation costs, raw material prices, and labour shortages, are impacting buying trade. Buyers are facing challenges in managing costs, negotiating favourable pricing with suppliers, and maintaining profitability amidst rising input costs. This puts unproductive strain upon relationships and challenges ways of working.

 Price war. As a result of the above cost pressures, the country has found itself within a cost of living crisis. What was once known as the 'core 4' are now in jeopardy, as customers turn to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl. In order to combat customer loss, retailers are employing more aggressive pricing campaigns which, in turn, puts pressure on profit margins as inflation remains ever present. This is challenging to manage both internally and externally, as it requires tough negotiations with suppliers to gain further support and mitigate any profit pressures that may arise.

What advice can you give to others who want to work in buying?

A strong business background is not required for success within the retail environment. Buying requires a vast and diverse skill set, many of which are transferable. The most important quality is drive and an innate desire to continually learn.

The retail industry is relevant within everyone's life and you'll be surprised how much knowledge you already subconsciously possess. Being able to pursue a career within buying is incredibly exciting as you can become a part of this ever-present cog within society.

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