F&F’s head of merchandising for ladieswear swapped science for fashion – and has never looked back.
My week starts at 7am, analysing trading with a team of eight merchandisers and trying to draw conclusions from the previous week’s sales performance.
It’s all about understanding the customer and giving her what she wants. So we’ll look at the reaction to different products to see if we’ve put our money in the right places and whether our autumn 15 colours are stacked up correctly for the key items in the season.
It’s my team’s job to repeat winning styles to get them back into store quickly
It’s my team’s job to repeat winning styles to get them back into store quickly and we have an efficient supply base to support this. We may ask our suppliers to stop cutting a poorly selling shape and cut it instead into a bestseller.
We turn most of our stock around in six weeks but, if it’s a key trend, we would look to get the product in within two to three weeks.
Our customers are looking for newness each week. If a colour hasn’t sold, I look at our commitment on that colour and see if we need to find a replacement. This might involve talking to suppliers and figuring out if we can cut the fabrics in a different way as, for example, we might want to cut a short-sleeved top in a different shape.
It’s very exciting working on womenswear in particular because it’s trend-focused and really fast paced. We try to build a global range, so while sometimes a trend works across all our markets, we equally look at how to sell product differently in different markets. For example, we sell swimwear later in central Europe compared with the UK.
The rest of the week is taken up booking future production with our suppliers worldwide. For short lead-time product we look at suppliers in countries like Turkey or Romania, whereas for long lead-time garments we source from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India. At the moment we’re booking fabric for our March intake on long lead-time product.
It’s also really important that I spend time supporting and developing my team of merchandisers from a technical perspective, as well as in leadership skills and communication with our members of the wider team.
I spend a lot of my week with the head of buying, Bethan Jones. We have a really close relationship. While Bethan identifies key trends and develops product with the buying team, I need to analyse where our investment should go.
I love working for F&F. There is so much opportunity and you can implement new ideas quickly. As a relatively young company, there is lots of room for new ideas and I feel like I can make a big difference whereas at, say, a high street multiple, it might be harder to make your mark. Apart from the product, the most satisfying part of my job is seeing my amazing team develop.
I am good at using a calculator, rather than being good at maths. With a background in science from my degree in biology, I have lots of experience spotting trends in data. I did my final-year project on communication in Indian ants; now I spend my time finding the best ways to communicate with the Tesco customer. It’s all about being able to draw conclusions from the data.
With a background in science from my degree in biology, I have lots of experience spotting trends in
The key to merchandising across all markets and channels is really understanding the customer and delivering what they want at the right time. It’s critical to get right the phasing and intake of warm-weather product across all our markets and channels. Taking a global view of the business is essential.
The advantage of working for a large-volume player like Tesco is that we have less of a problem with footfall than some stores; everyone always needs a pint of milk. The volumes we drive are considerable and the opportunity is huge. However, it is all about converting our food customers into buying clothing. You convert them by having really great product and reacting quickly to understand what they want most and when.
Don’t sweat the small stuff is what I’d tell my 18-year-old self. Have a plan and focus your energy on what you want to achieve. You can get sidetracked on the detail, but it’s important to concentrate on the bigger picture.
I’ve always believed in the motto of ‘a daily dose of discomfort’. It’s important to put yourself in uncomfortable situations so you continue to learn and grow. This year I did my first triathlon, which meant learning to swim and then swimming in the Thames. This definitely took me out of my comfort zone.
If I didn’t work in fashion, I would probably be a scientist of some kind. When I finished my biology degree, I was offered a post studying rainforests in Borneo, but I turned it down for a job as an allocator for New Look in Weymouth. I decided to make the shift because I love product and people.
1997- 2000 – BSc (Hons) Biological Sciences, University of Sheffield
2000-2001 – Allocator, New Look
2001-2009 – Debenhams – Trainee in merchandising; assistant merchandiser; merchandiser
2009 – Head of merchandising, F&F
Retail is changing. It’s about speed to market and personalising the offer. Customers are demanding so much more and we need to keep up with that, so we’re holding lots more focus groups to find out what clothes they need for the different aspects of their life. It’s important to stay ahead and adapt to change, so getting to grips with systems like product lifecycle management will be more crucial than ever.