A Day In The Life…

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AQUAretail talks to Amy Turland, Ladieswear Senior Merchandiser at House of Fraser.

What time does your day begin?

5.30am on a Monday as I like to be fully prepared for our Monday Trade meeting and – depending on performance – it could be a little or a lot of preparation, with some ad hoc analysis thrown in. The rest of the week, it’s a 6am start, to get myself and my children ready for the day. I catch up on retail news on my train ride, and then I arrive at the office at 8.40am to begin the day properly.

How many meetings would you expect to have on a standard day?

There could be up to four a day – anything from Category Trade, Team Trade, Merchandisers Meeting, Sign Offs, Team 1-2-1’s, Web team meetings, or Supplier meetings to name a few! No day is the same, and I never have a meeting free day.

As a SM, what involvement do you have in selecting the new collections?

My involvement starts during out brainstorming and Away Day for our Seasonal Strategy meeting. I will be armed with all sorts of analysis on suppliers, shapes, colours, prices, timing of packs and we will all discuss what we need in the range and what we don’t. During the process from initial Strategy meeting to the monthly sign off meetings, I will have meetings with my buyer and designer and a “Love Hate” discussion to ensure we are all happy with what we want to sign off and be included within the range.

What size team do you oversee, and how do you train them?

I oversee one Junior Merchandiser, an Assistant Merchandiser and two Allocators.  The Junior Merchandiser spends a lot of time training the Assistant Merchandiser, and likewise the Assistant Merchandiser undertakes a lot of the Allocator’s training, in terms of departmental / system processes. A lot of training is on the job, as whilst there are many standard documents and best practices across the floor, we also have documents which have been tailored to the department’s needs so it is important that someone with experience on the department can pass the knowledge down to the next level, and teach the team skills that they can take with them if and when they move departments.

How often do you sit down with your own boss and go over your department?

I have a weekly 1-2-1 meeting with my Merchandising Director which can be used to discuss anything from my own development and team’s development to current workload, upcoming deadlines or to discuss feedback from recent meetings. 

However, if I need any additional time to discuss anything to do with my department then I will either book some time into his diary, or just approach him at his desk. It is all dependent on what is going on that week and what point in the season we are.  For example, leading up to the “Black Friday” event, I probably had about 3 meetings each week for three weeks to ensure that we were all happy with the promotional stance we were offering and that everyone was aware of what needed to be done to ensure that the sales were potentialised.

How long do you take for lunch, and at what time?

Officially I can take an hour per day. However, I probably only take my full hour on a Friday when and if it is a bit quieter and all deadlines for the week are completed. 

Monday is the only day where I will take about 15 minutes which is just enough time to run to the nearest sandwich shop, get back to the office and eat at my desk. The divisional trade meeting does not finish until 12.30pm and then there is often some follow up work to do from any questions that arose from trade, so I wouldn’t normally take my lunch break until around 2pm. During the rest of the week I tend to take half an hour – as long as I get at least one latte a day I am happy!

How many SKUs do you manage, and how do you multitask effectively with so much to do?

On one department I manage 170 options per season, which is about 280,000 SKUs per year. On the slightly small department which I oversee, there are 200,000 SKU’s.  Managing so many SKUs efficiently and effectively is definitely all down to teamwork. Everyone on the team has a specific role but at the same time we all help each other out and support in areas outside our remit if required. Having a daily to-do list is very important and there are also certain tasks which occur on the same day every week so once everyone knows what they need to be doing everything usually runs fairly smoothly.

What else do you find yourself getting involved in as a SM?

As a SM, I am sometimes required to cover meetings for my Merchandise Manager or Merchandise Director in their absence, which – although daunting the first time – I enjoy. One of the meetings is the Monday Directors Meeting where trade is discussed across all categories and actions going forward and I find it very interesting hearing about all areas of the business in a detail which you would not necessarily get, and then feeding this back to the teams. I also get involved in additional projects which I didn’t do at a lower level.

What do you enjoy the most about being a SM?

On one hand, every week is the same – Monday Trade, monthly Wednesday WSSI meetings, monthly product sign offs etc – so I enjoy the routine, BUT, every week is different as lots of ad hoc tasks come up depending on how we are trading, what time of year it is, what is happening on the promotional calendar. I love coming in on a Monday morning to see how my departments have traded. Obviously it’s much more exciting if we’ve had an amazing week and hit all our forecasts, but if it’s disappointing I like the post-trade meeting time, actioning what we can to turn things around. I love the variety of the job. My current role isn’t as fast paced as some of the places I have worked but keeps me on my toes, and there is never a dull moment. 

Another part of the role I enjoy is watching my team develop and learn, whether they are an Allocator and it’s their very first time in this sort of role; perhaps even their very first job, or if they are an Assistant Merchandiser progressing to Junior Merchandiser and running their own department for the first time.

Do you find that you do a better job when working on a department which excites you?

No. Although I didn’t always have that opinion. During my 16 year career in merchandising I have worked on Menswear, Womenswear and Childrenswear; in young fashion and for older brands. I always thought that I wouldn’t be able to get excited about a product if I wouldn’t buy it myself, and if I wasn’t excited then how could I do a good job? However, I have always found that once I get to grips with the department I am working on and familiarise myself with its history, I become very passionate and protective of MY brand. I was as excited working on Men’s Formalwear as I was on Toddler Girlswear and Women’s Classics.

What’s the biggest challenge and the element you like the least?

The biggest challenge is probably when you are asked to change departments when you’ve become so passionate about the one you work on, know it inside out and don’t want to let go of it – it’s like leaving your family! I’ve now been on the same department for over two years and I do feel like an expert and that it belongs to me. 

However, despite it being the element I like least, it is still fun to learn about something new, and work with a new team.

How often do you work til 9pm to meet a deadline?

I probably only work until around 8pm twice a month, and this will be the day before a very busy day where sign off packs or reforecasting packs need to be completed, and I’d rather come in relaxed the following morning instead of fighting for a printer along with lots of other people.

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