In all of corporate retail, merchandising is one of the most sought-after positions - and also among the most complex. While the job certainly comes with an undeniable cool factor, it requires the merchandiser to wear a lot of hats and own a lot of responsibilities. So, aside from some of the more obvious traits required to excel in this role - like skill, savvy and relational dexterity - what makes a great merchandiser? Here are four must-have traits.
1. Excessively Committed to the Customer
This takes precedence above all else. Every piece you buy has to be purchased with the customer’s needs, wants and preferences front and center. Retail industry insider, Liza Amlani, talks about this regularly here. It doesn’t matter if you think an emerging style is the cutest trend in the world or if you’re seeing it show up on the shelves of your competitors’ stores; if the elements of the style are “no”s from your customer, they must be “no”s for your assortment, too.
For example, cutouts could be everywhere in a given season, but what if your customer skews modest and is likely to be too bashful to wear such a style? Easy - you skip them. She's not going to buy them, so save your space for something else that’s a better fit and serves her preferences.
2. Ability to Prioritize Competing Needs
Merchandisers are the bridge between the finance-focused planners and the trend-focused design team, meaning it’s their job to balance relationships, goals and processes. They also must work closely with production, and manage items costs that contribute to the company’s bottom line. If this sounds challenging, it’s because it is.
Merchandisers have to ensure they’re listening to everyone on the team, while ultimately putting the customer’s and the business’ interests first. The perfect cocktail in merchandising is an assortment that is trend forward, at a great cost and positioned to beat the sales goal from last season, which takes a keen eye for prioritization. Of course, this is much easier said than done (although, shameless plug, Toolio does make it easier), but the best merchandisers get it done.
3. Strong Communication Skills
Along the same lines of navigating the priorities above, superb communication is essential. Oftentimes in the role, you’ll need to pivot your instruction and collaboration style based on the cross-functional partner you’re speaking to. For example, most planners want direct interaction with super clear instructions and steps for go-forward, whereas you might simply tell designers to “take it away” so their creative integrity is protected. Not only does this skill not come naturally to most people, according to Frued humans are actually conditioned to compete instead of collaborate. So, it’s really hard!
In other words, merchandisers must understand the other players on the team, establish mutual trust and perfect the ability to communicate with very different parties who have disparate working styles. Ultimately, the perfect style is a beautiful collaboration between all involved, starting as an original vision from design and refined with updates the merchandiser can incorporate based on customers and sales feedback. Achieving this takes seriously stellar communication skills.
Finally, the underlying thread woven through all the traits here is decisiveness. As a merchandiser, you have to be willing to make the final decision in any given situation. In this role, you are your assortment’s biggest advocate and the most responsible for the success of your business. If the product fails, you’ll get the brunt of the criticism. But if it succeeds? You’ll be the first to be celebrated. As the old saying goes, the buck stops with you.
Conclusion: Traits of Successful Merchandisers
Working as a merchandiser can be an incredibly fulfilling and exciting career, and it requires a great deal of talent, instinct and interpersonal skills. If you have the traits outlined here, and a passion for fashion, you’re well on your way to becoming the next great merchandiser.