AQUAretail hears from Lucy Evans – Assistant Merchandiser at Mint Velvet – about how she launched her merchandising career after university…
When I didn’t know what to do
After completing A-levels in Maths, Textiles and Economics, I went on to study Mathematics and Management at the University of Leeds. At this stage, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career; however, I had a theory that if I chose subjects I excelled in and enjoyed, I’d end up in a job that I excelled in and enjoyed.
I spent a lot of my spare time trying out different job ideas: banking at the University’s Santander branch, teaching Year 8’s Mathematics at a school in Harrogate and spending my year in industry in ASDA’s corporate finance team. The latter ended up being the beginning and end of my career in finance. However, it was the best thing I ever did. In such a large organisation, you may not be privy to the ‘big’ decisions but you do get a lot of opportunities if you ask for them. For example, after months of networking with the right people, I was sent to the head offices of Walmart in Arkansas, USA. Apart from the major culture shock, I learnt a huge amount about how one of the biggest retailers in the world functions on a day-to-day basis. I met people that I am still in touch with today and gained a vast amount of confidence in myself.
Merchandising – before Mary came into my life
After my fleeting affair with finance, I decided to look within an industry that has always intrigued me: fashion. I knew I still wanted to work with numbers, solve problems and work within a dynamic team, I just didn’t know how that fitted into the fashion world. After a few weeks of soul searching (and literally typing ‘fashion and numbers’ into a search engine) I came upon merchandising.
What is merchandising?
I get asked this every time a relative enquires about what I do as a job. The most basic definition I’ve come up with is as follows: we divvy up the money between buyers, helping them to decide what garments to spend it on. Then we get the right things to the right place at the right time and price. The London College of Fashion tutors who delivered my Buying and Merchandising short course wouldn’t be content with the above, so I’ve got the following to hand for the more inquisitive relatives!
There are two facets to merchandising: planning and trading. We work with the buying team to decide how many options to buy each season, what selling prices to use and how many styles to send to each of our stores – the ‘plans’. Once a season has begun, we trade using data to decide if a style needs to go to more stores, what our best sellers are and if we should repeat them and finally, learning lessons for the following season.
When you know where you want to go but don’t know how to get there.
After deciding that merchandising was the career for me, I needed to gain some experience. A family contact gave me a week’s work experience at a high street fashion retailer, which proved an interesting exercise. It cemented the fact that I wanted to do merchandising and highlighted another important factor: culture. The company’s culture was paramount in my job search; I wanted to be part of an organisation that valued me, where healthy work relationships could be built between colleagues. Once I officially graduated from university, I set about applying for jobs via recruitment websites. Companies with a variety of retail roles advertised just didn’t float my boat – they weren’t specialised enough. It was my sister who came across AQUAretail in a bid to get me out of my ‘unemployed but highly employable graduate’ funk. After a quick re-jig of my CV, I sent off my application for AQUAretail’s graduate day. Within ten minutes I received a call from Mary herself to invite me to the event!
The graduate event held in London was eye opening. Mary hand-selected seven of us to attend and she certainly put us through our paces. We had sessions on the structure of merchandising, the key tools merchandisers use on a daily/weekly basis, tips on choosing the company for you, a one-on-one discussion with Mary about our plans and, of course, a Maths test. Note: if you don’t like maths, get to like it. You will not enjoy merchandising otherwise! Within a week Mary had secured two interviews for me with women’s high street fashion retailers. The extensive – and intensive! – advice and guidance provided by Mary prior to my interviews was second to none.
She encouraged and reviewed my competitor pricing and SWOT analyses (a must-have for interviews). Store visits were a must. As well as this, she imparted a huge amount of knowledge about the retailers to me, which was invaluable preparation. With two interviews and two job offers under my belt, I could not have asked for a better mentor in Mary and her support continued well past my first day at Mint Velvet.
Relaxed glamour, the MV way
After a second interview with the COO at Mint Velvet, I gained an MAA role to start straight away. It is a company that has always been on my radar as the head offices are based in my hometown of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. All the preparation I completed prior to my interviews got me hooked on the product Mint Velvet offer but also the way they deliver it to their customers. The boutique-style shop formats really set the scene for the fantastic clothing and accessories in store. My first day was great. After being introduced to the head office staff, I was shown my desk and started work straight away. I’m not one for holding back so it was fantastic to get my hands dirty as soon as possible! Since then, I have learnt a huge amount.
Merchandising specific knowledge such as weekly reporting, managing purchase orders, understanding technical terms such as ‘rate of sale’ and ‘spot cover’. Soft skills such as working within a dynamic team, working to tough deadlines and presenting are used on a daily basis. As well as this, roles of responsibility are always available for those who ask, such as training others, managing supplier relationships and presenting to senior management. After only 15 months at Mint Velvet, I am now an Assistant Merchandiser and still loving every second of my job! It really is true: if you are driven, motivated and willing to learn, there are a vast amount of opportunities out there for you.
Excel and enjoy – make sure this is what you really want to do. Get as much work experience as possible.
Contact Mary! Meet her, talk to her, buy her a drink, absorb every word she says. She knows the industry like the back of her hand and will get you to where you want to go.
Do your research. Know the brand you are interviewing for inside out and make sure you love what they do.
Be honest. It isn’t the location you wanted? It isn’t a brand you’re passionate about? Communicate this and you won’t regret a thing.