From retail buyers to stuffed toy wholesaler
This blog has been inspired by a comment I made on Twitter recently about what retail buyers for multiple stores actually do.
Best Years was set up and run by Gaynor Humphrey and Liz Cochrane. We were both retail buyers for over 20 years each and between us we have worked for Boots, Texas Homecare, Hamleys, Disney, Mothercare and Dixons. We had a variety of titles from Buyer to (my favourite) Director of Strategic Relationships but the basic job was chosing products, negotiating prices and getting them in to the shops
We have now been out of buying for almost 10 years but here is our quick synopsis of what retailer buyers are doing (when they are not avoiding calls from small businesses) and tips about how to contact them if you really want to.
Retail buyers are there to select products for retailers which sell in volume at a profit. They work with a team including the Supply Manager who works out how many of each product to buy and a Marketing Mgr who works out promotions and manages things like the store Xmas gift guide. The Buyer, Supply Manager and Marketing Manager will all then have an Assistant buyer and a buying assistant or their equivalent. They will report in to a Category Manager who is responsible for the profitability of the total range.
The day to day job of a retail buyer involves meeting with existing suppliers to see potential new products and negotiate prices, meetings with the team to plan the shape of future ranges (typically a large store will be planning ranges 10-18 months before the actual season), sorting out issues with current ranges such as what to do with slow sellers, how to get more stock of good sellers right down to system issues with barcodes. There is a lot of meetings, a lot of maths and spreadsheets and a lot of travelling. As far as jobs go its absolutely fab!
Gondola End - thats the metre at the end of each isle which is the highest visibility space in the store. They are sold to suppliers for £000s
Open to Buy - A buyer is budgeted to achieve certain sales at a set margin. This then throws out an amount of money which can be used to buy product. So if you need to achieve £5m in a 3 month period the open to buy would be about £2m.
DPP - not so popular these days but this stood for Direct Product Profitability. This meant that you measured all the costs associated with a product - transport to stores, merchandising in stores etc etc and worked out what the final bottom line profitability was for each line
EPP - entry price point. This is the cheapest product in the range and the one which produces the highest volume and invariably the lowest margin, and the one which is most heavily promoted. It is also the least profitable for the stores. John Lewis maintain their competitive position in electricals by simply not listing EPP products which drain resource and profit.
So given that a buyer's main role is to find profitable new lines why do they never accept calls from companies trying to sell them brilliant new products?
This is mainly to do with time and money. Buyers have to interact with a lot of people both in and out of the company. They spend a lot of time talking to people on the phone and in meetings so the chances of them being in the right frame of mind to talk to a cold caller are minimal.
However more than time is the issue of money. Buyers don't just make money by selecting the right product they also negotiate promotional support from their suppliers. When I was working at Boots in the Home Business Centre (which was the smallest and least profitable business centre of the company) back in the 1990s we sold promotional gondola ends for between £8k - £16k per week. This was the lowest charge in the company. What they charge now is anybody's guess! On top of this the supplier would then have to fund the promotional discount as well. When a new product is launched we used to charge £000s for the store launch.
A small company is unlikely to have the financial support to buy the promotional space or focus so its usually more profitable to go to a large, existing supplier for new products. The Marketing manager won't want a small company as a new supplier as they are unlikely to stump up £000s for a slot in the Xmas gift guide and other advertising opportunities, and the Supply Manager won't want a small company as they are most likely to make a mistake in the timing and method of deliveries.
So if you still want to talk to the buyer of a multiple retailer then how can you do it?
This may sound dum, but the first thing to do is find out their name. I can't tell you of the amount of letters we received saying Dear Buyer. The switchboard will routinely refuse to give out names, but you can find out. We have a list of all the Toy buyers for the multiples here
Once you have the name then set aside a year and over the course of the year write relevant and informed letters, postcards and emails. Send in brochures and samples. invite them to trade fairs. and after you have done all this, then ring them. Some will still refuse to speak to you, but most will then give you some time.
And some anecdotes
I was in a meeting about the launch of pre-pay mobiles when a very senior director stated that pre-pay mobile phones were a ludicrous idea and were destined to fail. He is now an MD of a large high st retailer
And if you see me at a trade show ask me about the complain letter I got which started "For many years I have suffered from severe pain in my anal passage, right testicle and my penis"
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