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Sally Furrer: The Art and Science of Merchandising

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My last couple of articles have dealt more with the science part of merchandising. Certainly the mechanics of buying and inventory management is critical to the success of your business. Whether you are engaging in new purchasing, replenishment, or aged inventory management, there is a detailed, rigorous aspect to it. On hands and sales trends need to be analyzed and drilled down into in order to uncover which products need attention. Most importantly, this is a process which needs to happen regularly and consistently. It does require commitment and discipline. All these activities engage the left brain.

I recently read A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink. To paraphrase him, “The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind — computer programmers who could crank code … MBA’s who could crunch numbers.The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind …. These people — artists, designers, big picture thinkers — will now reap society’s richest rewards.”

So, I started thinking about the buyers and merchandisers I have worked with, and who have worked for me. What made one person adequate, and one person outstanding? What are the ingredients of a great buyer? Whether you are a store owner who does the buying, or you have a buyer on your team, the skill set and approach is the same.

Every buyer is positioned somewhere in the continuum between creative and analytical, leaning to one side or the other. Chances are if you or your buyer is outstanding with reports, data, organization and analysis – they are not going to be the most creative, conceptual thinker. Analysis, planning, inventory management can be taught, but creativity cannot. If you have talent in your store (and I hope that you do), do not suffocate them with paperwork. Consider hiring clerical support for the inventory management aspect. If you think you cannot afford to hire a support person, you are underestimating the impact to your business a great buyer can have.

A great buyer recognizes that your product offerings communicate to your clients who you are. You know that you are not as inexpensive as Costco or the Internet. You know that you may not be as large as a Jared. But what you can do is provide jewelry with great design. You know that you are not as inexpensive as Costco or the Internet. You know that you may not be as large as a Jared. But what you can do is provide jewelry with great design. To quote John Heskett, “Design is a combination of utility and significance.” This applies beautifully to jewelry, especially bridal. Are you (or your buyer) telling a story of emotion and significance with your product, and in your showcases with displays and messaging?

What a talented buyer does need to have — in addition to fashion/product instinct — is business savvy. But don’t misunderstand — business savvy is not number crunching, it is an astute feel for the marketplace and their customer. They will recognize the relationship between fashion and the arts, culture and society. Through this lens they will discover or recognize new trends, not just follow or chase them.

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A great buyer needs strong interpersonal skills. Some assume that since he or she holds the “power”, it does not matter too much. I guarantee you that someone who has the ability to climb into someone else’s mind will be more effective in motivating your vendors and negotiating, than someone wielding a big stick.

A skilled buyer will need be able to effectively collaborate with store personnel and your advertising/marketing resources. Together they tell the story to your customer.

There is a tendency in retail to not recognize the huge contribution a great buyer can make. I have been guilty of that in the past. But, in the retail world of today, that mistake can cost you more than you know.

Sally Furrer is a merchandising consultant with 20-plus years of jewelry industry experience. E-mail her at [email protected], or visit sallyfurrerconsulting.com. Meet Sally at The SMART Jewelry Show, at Chicago’s Navy Pier from April 21-23, 2012. To register, go to smartjewelryshow.com/register.

This story originally appeared in the May 2011 edition of INSTORE

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