Case study

Senior buyer — Karen Isabella Dougall

Karen's self-motivation and proactive approach to job hunting helped her secure a buying role with a dynamic fashion retail group

How did you get your job?

After completing a degree in fashion and textile design management, I worked for a fashion import company in London. The company imported fashion accessories for high street store groups from China. We had a sister company in Hong Kong, so worked very closely with the team in the Far East.

After a while I wanted to move back to Scotland so I wrote to every fashion company and sent them my CV. I had worked with lots of buyers in my previous position and really believed I could be a buyer too. As luck would have it, Quiz was looking for a junior buyer and they took a chance on me. I had no buying experience but worked hard and learned fast.

Get as much experience as possible as the fashion business is very competitive

How relevant is your degree to your job?

It was relevant but I learned most of my key skills - negotiating, trend forecasting, analysing sales reports, planning ranges and managing open-to-buy (OTB) - on the job.

What are your main work activities?

As a buyer I can get involved in all aspects of the company, including the window displays, visual merchandising, PR samples, photo shoots and, more recently, I assisted in the styling ideas for a video shoot.

If I'm working in the office, the first thing I do is check the sales reports to see what is reacting; we have live sales information so we can react instantly to a best seller emerging.

A normal day involves looking at fabrics and developing ranges with the buying team and our design team. We work closely with our suppliers both in the UK and in the Far East, requesting fabrics, samples and trims daily to build our ranges together.

A buyer's role also involves lots of travel to different supplier meetings and sourcing trips for inspiration. I spend lots of time negotiating prices and delivery dates for orders and chasing suppliers for deliveries and samples.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I started at Quiz as a buyer's assistant and have worked my way up the ranks to senior buyer. I am now involved in managing and training junior team members and taking a leading role in driving the department forward in terms of new ideas, organisation and more responsibility for the performance of the company.

My career has developed in line with the company's growth and I'm proud to be part of the success so far. As far as career ambitions go, the next step for me would be buying controller and I would like to see myself develop further into this role over the next few years.

What do you enjoy about your job?

This job is really fast paced and can be highly pressurised at times, but I love it. I enjoy the buzz of finding my styles top of the best sellers list - I'm competitive, I can't help it.

I enjoy being able to create the ranges and seeing the stories emerge, and also get a sense of achievement from seeing people wearing styles that I've developed from scratch. I enjoy training staff and seeing them develop and reach their goals, as I did.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

The hardest part of the job is when suppliers let you down: if the stock's not in on time, we can't meet our targets. This in turn affects the shop staff who can't achieve their targets, and the company's overall performance is affected.

Other challenges include trying to achieve the best cost prices so we can make our margins. A buyer's role involves lots of negotiating with suppliers so it's very important to develop a good supply chain and have good relationships with key suppliers. The job has many challenges but the biggest one is getting the right price.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

My advice is to get as much experience as possible as the fashion business is very competitive. When we interview for assistants I always look for fashion experience and for people who are self-motivated and proactive.

I did a week's placement at the Ted Baker head office whilst I was at university and it was a great insight into all aspects of a successful fashion retailer.

If you don't ask, you don't get so don't be afraid to push yourself forward to help achieve your goals. I have always been driven and pushed myself to get to where I am.