Is a Career in Fashion Merchandising Right for You?
Fashion merchandisers are responsible for getting the right products in the right store, at the right time and in the right quantities. They're in charge of shaping collections within a brand. As a merchandiser, you’ll be involved with garments through their entire lifecycle, from initial concept to shop floor. Jackie Hutson, Vice President of Merchandising at Atrium Apparel Corporation, describes the role of a merchandiser as a “conductor, orchestrating a collection together”.
Merchandisers typically specialise in a certain product area. For large brands, you might be working in menswear, womenswear, accessories, cosmetics, jewellery or shoes. However, the skills and experience are easily transferable between roles.
To be a successful merchandiser, you’ll need a deep understanding of trends, consumer behaviour and marketing; you’ll need to know exactly what customers want before they do! You’ll work closely with a variety of different departments to maximise sales and profits for your brand. Roberta Pasciuti, Senior Merchandiser at Juicy Couture, says the aim of fashion merchandising is to “marry the design vision with the financial goals.”
It’s a fast-paced, competitive environment. However, this makes it a motivating and challenging role where hard work is strongly rewarded. You might be surprised at how quickly you’re given responsibility for large budgets. There's currently an extremely high demand for merchandisers in the fashion industry, with not enough candidates to fill the many roles available. This means there are lots of great opportunities for rapid progression in the sector!
There are also plenty of exciting opportunities for overseas travel. You might be accompanying buyers to visit factories and suppliers in South America and South-East Asia. At a senior level, you may need to travel to find new suppliers, select products and solve problems with manufacturers.
Merchandising is a fantastic career option if you’re looking for an exciting, rewarding career in fashion business. “I’ll never forget how proud I felt the first time I saw someone wearing something that I had a hand in making. That feeling doesn’t go away” says Jackie.
The role of a fashion merchandiser
Most merchandisers are based in head offices, the majority of which are in London or other large cities like Manchester and Glasgow. Daily tasks for a fashion merchandiser can vary widely, depending on the retail department or brand you work for.
As a merchandiser, you’ll be responsible for researching current fashion trends and using your forecasting skills to predict what will be popular in future. As part of this, you might attend fashion and trade shows with the buying department. You’ll need to have a strong grasp of your brand’s demographics to be able to choose the best products for them!
Merchandisers are also in charge of setting the prices for products to optimise sales and profits and plan for promotions and markdowns accordingly. You’ll be using data to forecast profits and sales for future collections, and present these to senior management. You’ll also need to keep an eye on current stock levels, reordering as required and deciding how stock is distributed amongst sales channels.
Whilst the buying team will choose what to buy, merchandisers choose how much of it to buy (following a strict budget). Merchandisers also need to negotiate with manufacturers and suppliers to get the products made and shipped to stores within set timeframes. If a product is delayed, you’ll be responsible for discovering why and managing problems as they arise.
You’ll also regularly analyse a current collection’s sales performance. Your feedback on bestselling price points, colours and styles are vital to other departments, and you’ll use it to inform decisions about future ranges. Any product not achieving targets might need to be reduced or put on promotion.
Working with buying and marketing
Fashion merchandisers work with many departments across a brand. Generally, merchandisers work most closely with the buying team. The buyers select the products in a collection, and the merchandisers decide how much money should be spent, how many lines should be bought and in what quantities.
Buying and merchandising departments work together to accurately forecast trends, plan stock levels and monitor sales performance. At smaller brands, the same person can be responsible for both buying and merchandising.
As a merchandiser, you’ll also assist the advertising, marketing and PR departments with which products to promote. You’ll work alongside visual merchandisers to create store displays that highlight key products. Merchandisers also often need to liaise with operations teams to decide how much product to produce.
The first step in a merchandising career is usually an Allocator, Distributor or Merchandising Admin Assistant (MAA). Starting salaries range from £16,000 to £22,000. After a few years, you can expect to be earning between £28,000 and £36,000, and working as a Merchandising Assistant.
After around 7 or 8 years, you’ll rise to a Senior Merchandiser level, with a salary ranging from £45,000 and £65,000. At the highest levels, working as a Head of or Director of Merchandising at a large band, you can expect to be earning £85,000 or more plus benefits.
Career development within merchandising can be rapid for high performers. You can be in charge of a large budget and managing a team within 5 years!
Key Skills for Fashion Merchandising Careers
Merchandisers are highly skilled, and you’ll need a perfect balance of creative and analytical skills to thrive. Roxanne Doyle, Fashion Merchandiser at Shop Direct, believes the key attributes for success as a merchandiser are "a positive attitude and a good work ethic."
1. Analytical and Numerical Skills
As a merchandiser, you’ll need a confident grasp of numbers and statistics, as you’ll be using these every day in your role. You’ll be analysing sales figures and setting budgets, and working with spreadsheets. As you progress, you’ll be responsible for increasingly large amounts of money. Excellent attention to detail is essential, as the smallest of errors can result in huge reductions in profit.
Charles, FRA alumni and Assistant Merchandiser at M&S, says the ideal merchandiser is “reactive, adaptable and able to work under pressure. You need to always be up for a challenge, and not be afraid to question things!”
2. Flexible and Good Under Pressure
Merchandising is a dynamic and evolving environment, so you’ll need to be flexible and open to change. You’ll need to identify problems and solutions quickly.
Excellent organisation skills and good time management are key. You’ll need to have a good ability to plan and prioritise your tasks.
3. Communication Skills
Because merchandisers work in collaboration with many departments, you’ll need to be a strong communicator and able to develop effective working relationships. This is also important as you’ll also often be working as part of a large team! You’ll also be negotiating with suppliers across the world, navigating language barriers and cultural differences.
Creativity is essential for success as a merchandiser. You’ll need fantastic trend forecasting skills and a deep understanding of what will appeal to your brand’s target audience. By understanding the entire fashion landscape, you’ll be able to accurately predict what customers want to buy and how to maximise sales and profits. Having a deep understanding of the lifecycle of a product can help avoid having to liquidate excess inventory at the end of season.
Getting Started in a Merchandising Career
When applying for merchandiser roles, it’s important to read the job description carefully. The role can vary widely between companies!
A qualification in a specialised subject is generally preferred by employers in the fashion industry. Roles are open to graduates of all disciplines but business, fashion, finance and retail-related subjects are particularly valued.
At the FRA, we have a fantastic range of specialised merchandising courses to choose from. Our Level 4 Merchandising for Fashion diploma course gives you a fantastic introduction to the world of fashion merchandising. You’ll graduate prepared for an entry-level industry role.
You might choose to specialise further and study our accelerated 2-year BA (Hons) Buying & Merchandising degree. You’ll graduate faster and save money on your studies.
If you’re looking to start work as quickly as possible, you might choose our Level 4 Fast Track Buying & Merchandising diploma. You’ll learn the fundamentals of buying and merchandising in the fashion industry in just 22 weeks. This is a great choice for those already working in industry looking to retrain and move sectors.
Internships and Work Experience
A fashion merchandising internship can give you practical experience in the work environment, outside of the classroom. They can also help you make industry contacts to support you throughout your career, and boost your CV with great references. While in school, Roberta advises that "you get a lot of internships, so you know exactly what to expect.”
Having strong experience can help you stand out in applications and interviews, particularly an understanding of stock control levels. Many of our courses at the FRA include a 3-week industry experience, helping you gain the important real-world knowledge and skills you’ll need to thrive.
It can also be an advantage to have had previous experience working on the shop floor of a brand. This can demonstrate your interest in retailing to employers, and further supports your understanding of a product’s lifecycle. “I think it helps you to think about things differently, especially in regards to the customer,” says Roxanne.
If you have any more questions about any of the courses on offer at The Fashion Retail Academy, send an email to email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you!