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A day in the life of Louise Benfield

Trading banking for retail paid off for Net-a-Porter’s financially minded lingerie and beachwear merchandiser.

What does a typical week involve?
Each week starts with a strong focus on trade. I review performance from the previous week, as well as the season to date, for each designer we carry in the lingerie and beachwear department with my assistant merchandiser, Katie Welch, and the wider buying and merchandising team.

Part of my role is to have twice-weekly catch-ups with our retail teams in London, the US and Hong Kong to review priorities for the coming week. We jump on a video conference and look at anything from the product deliveries coming in for each region to what is uploading to the website, as well as share financials such as sales, stock and margin. The rest of the week is relatively varied depending on where we are in the buying cycle. We can be working across six buying seasons at any one time, involving sales forecasting, reviewing orders, range planning and vendor meetings.

What meeting are you most looking forward to today?
Lingerie and beachwear buyer Maria Williams has just come back from Paris and is reviewing orders from the collections she has seen. We’ll assess her order against the initial buying plans to see if it’s still relevant in terms of spend and exactly what we’ll be buying. I love this part of my role as I get to fully immerse myself in the product through samples and lookbooks.

How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always been fascinated with fashion and retail. For five years [at college and university], I worked as a sales assistant at footwear retailer Dune in Kingston upon Thames, where I grew increasingly interested in how stock was selected.

After finishing my A-levels, my keen interest in analytics and finance led me into banking and I worked as a customer service representative for HSBC. However, I quickly realised it wasn’t for me and longed to do something creative. In 2005 I enrolled to study a BSc in BusinessManagement at Kingston University, hoping I’d be able to move into retail.

After graduating, I joined The White Company as a merchandising distribution assistant. While there I learned how to forecast the WSSIs (weekly stock sales and intake) and allocate stock to stores.

I then became assistant merchandiser at Bhs in London in 2010, where I first worked with an ecommerce team. I quickly realised we could be more innovative in the digital space. For example, logistically we could react quicker to new trends as product didn’t need to be allocated and sent to stores. At this point I recognised I wanted to work in ecommerce and digital.

In 2011 I saw the assistant lingerie and beachwear merchandiser position at Net-A-Porter advertised and knew I had to apply. Getting the job was a ‘Wow’ moment, but I still had a lot to learn. It was the first time I’d had to think about a luxury consumer and I’d never worked on a global scale before.

In late 2013, I switched to fine and fashion jewellery, as a junior merchandiser. It’s quite common for buyers and merchandisers to move departments; it’s a great way to keep things fresh.

Then, in mid-2014, I moved back to lingerie and beachwear and was promoted to merchandiser in November last year. I’m glad to be back where I started. I love the product and I’m really excited to work closely with our customer insights teams.

What has been your career highlight?
Working as a junior merchandiser within the fine jewellery department from November 2013 to September 2014 was great. I brought in 21 brands, including Daniela Villegas, David Webb and Shaun Leane, to the business over autumn 14 and spring 15, which trebled the department’s annual sales in 2014.

If you could change one thing about your career path, what would it be?
I wish I’d gone straight to university after finishing school, so I could have started my career in retail earlier.

Who is your mentor?
Lea Cranfield, head of merchandising at Net-a-Porter. She’s a great leader while still allowing everyone to work autonomously, which I find really motivating.

What’s the best piece of advice she’s given you?
To develop within your own role and take on new challenges. You need to learn to let go and delegate. I can be a bit of a control freak at times.

How do you see your career progressing?
I’d love to oversee a proportion of the business as a merchandising manager in a non-apparel department at Net-a-Porter.com such as lingerie and beachwear. Doing some form of lecturing, possibly at university level, about the retail industry is also a dream of mine.

What advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Get a good understanding of retail, whether by working in a shop part-time while studying or via internships in the holidays. Be passionate and hard-working.

If you could work in another area of fashion, what would it be?
I’d probably be a luxury womenswear buyer because it’s the most similar job to the one I already do, which I truly enjoy.

  • Salaries for this position range from £40,000 to £50,000 depending on experience (estimate provided by Success Appointments)

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