Do You Really Need a Merchandise Manager
The point is not what form the structure takes but that you have a person (or people) responsible for providing direction — not just making individual item selection or performing other buyer functions.
I have a very astute colleague who once said a merchandise manager doesn’t need to decide if the rake handle should be green or red — a buyer can do that based on his or her closeness to the marketplace and the customer. Rather, the merchandise manager must determine if the company should be in the business of selling rakes.
Ideal Duties of a Merchandise Manager
Let’s look at a few tasks your merchandise manager should be doing to provide appropriate direction to your buying staff.
1. Solidify and/or communicate the merchandise concept — either the overall book concept or adapting the overall concept to the categories for which he or she is responsible.
2. Provide direction as to what fits with the catalog brand. Since the world is full of product choices, a good buyer learns how to edit. But buyers can’t edit from available products or product ideas unless they understand the merchandise concept and what’s right — or sometimes more importantly, what’s wrong — for the catalog. A couple of tools that can help include:
- a merchandise concept statement, and
- visual cut-outs from your catalogs or others demonstrating products that are dead-on and those that are dead-wrong.
3. Once the product concepts are clear, your merchandise managers must consistently help buyers by, for example, working with marketing and circulation personnel regarding your customer base. Average customer demographics comprise a good starting point, but understanding the main two or three clusters of customers also is important. A buyer file usually isn’t made up of one homogeneous average customer. It’s usually comprised of three or more major pockets of customer groups.