Carving out a career in merchandising

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What does your role involve? As head of merchandising for Topshop, I manage the whole department, which includes shoes, tailoring, lingerie, and then the concessions as well. There are around 20 people in the team and I have four senior merchandisers in each department that directly report into me, and then they have their own direct reports. At Topshop we give those senior merchandisers a lot of autonomy, and that is something I encourage. They report back to me how their areas are trading and that feeds into the brand strategy and trading position.

How did you get to where you are now?  I started as a merchandising admin assistant at Dorothy Perkins 11 and a half years ago. Arcadia is well known for its solid, structured training and offering a comprehensive progression plan, but I also seized every opportunity I was given whether that was applying for a vacancy or doing the job above me before I was promoted into it. I moved over to Topshop three years ago as senior merchandiser and then at Christmas I was promoted to head of merchandising.

What skills are you looking for? It depends on the level, but there are some qualities we would be looking for at every stage. Merchandising is like running your own business; that is how we see it. Candidates need to be numerical and able to handle big numbers, comfortable making decisions, to be brave, take risks and seize opportunities.

Merchandising is very fast paced at Topshop, so they need to be able to work at speed with lots going on all at one time. So they need to be able to make decisions under pressure on the spot.

Merchandisers are often viewed as number crunchers, but has the role become more creative with more of a focus on understanding product and what the stores look and feel like? I think it depends on the brand, but merchandising has always had that creative element at Arcadia and Topshop; you absolutely have to have a huge involvement in the product and understand how it is retailed in order to be able to do the job properly. You do have to have that numerical baseline skillset, of course, but what makes a great merchandiser is one that can also draw on that creative and commercial side. They have to really know the stores and how they work, and feel confident enough to be able to influence product decisions with both the buyer and in design.

How has the role changed at Arcadia? Over the past few years our business has grown massively internationally. So while we have dedicated international teams our merchandisers are still very much responsible for how a product flexes throughout the world and how it is delivered. There are a lot of differentials, from climate to sizing and colours, for example, among many other considerations.

From a sourcing perspective we need to make sure our product is the best it can be, but also protect our profit margin ultimately. We wouldn’t take everything into long lead times to drive price points and margins, because we have a lot of shorter lead time trend led product. So it is about trying to find that balance between price opportunities and trading flexibility.

What types of roles are you currently recruiting for? We are looking for merchandisers at every level, but the main areas are merchandising admin assistants (MAA’s) and assistant merchandisers (AM’s). Topshop is such a large business that we’re always recruiting, but what we are looking for is a specific person who wants to come into a really fast paced, challenging environment where they are willing to throw themselves into it.

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