Case study

Retail buyer — Paul Hayes

Paul used a combination of his degree and work experience to get into his current position as a retail buyer…

How did your career start?

I studied Fashion Merchandising Management at the University of Westminster. The course was merchandising based but it also covered many areas of business, focusing on the role of the buying office. I was lucky enough to do a year placement at House of Fraser in the buying office and then I was taken on full time after graduation.

Can you explain your role?

The two different types of buyer are:

  • product developer - works with a design team and briefs factories;
  • branded buyer or selector - this job involves selecting a product that is suitable for a House of Fraser customer.

A big part of the role is selection, but I also get involved with store and web planning, sourcing brands, visiting stores, negotiating deals, developing exclusive styles with the brands and looking after our concession partners.

What's your typical day like?

Even though it's a cliché, every day is different and so is every season. I love visiting a trade show at the beginning of the season and seeing what the brands are doing.

On Monday there are usually trade meetings discussing the previous week's sales and various opportunities. If it's buying season I may be out at trade shows or in the showrooms selecting the range. If it's not then I might be in meetings internally or externally talking about our performance. I also try to visit as many stores as possible, both our stores and our competitors, as you have to be aware of who is doing what on the high street.

What are some of the challenges you face as a buyer?

We work with some international brands and they all want to be the number one focus within our business. In reality we are involved with hundreds of brands and it’s hard to give them all the time that they expect, and indeed the time you want to give them. It's a real balancing act.

What do you love about your job?

One thing I love is that you can see people wearing the clothes and brands that you've selected.

I also love having a great support team. It's important to hear the views and ideas of everyone and we're all employed to have an opinion. It's great when you all work towards a common goal and everybody adds a little expertise to get a job done, from raising the orders through to company strategy.

What inspires you at work?

I am inspired by a lot of things, but I really love it when a small company makes it. I like to see a smaller brand succeed, especially if it's one we took a chance on.

With regards to personal drive, House of Fraser has more than 60 stores around the world and I still get a buzz when I see a customer carrying one of our carrier bags.

What tips would you give to someone looking to get into the industry?

If you want to be a fashion buyer you have to be:

  • analytical - know your best-selling brands and products;
  • numerical - run a profitable department;
  • organised - you are often asked to work on multiple seasons at once;
  • creative - you have to excite the customer and keep them coming back.

You'll get a more rounded idea of how the industry ticks by reading the trade press and fashion magazines.

You also need retail experience. It's impossible to understand what stores and customers need if you don't understand how a shop floor works. Try and get as much experience as possible in a buying office - it's all about contacts.