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How I got here: House of Fraser's Chris Pitts on being a team player

Harnessing the power of his colleagues is what gives House of Fraser’s director of womenswear merchandising the edge to take on the competition.

Chris Pitts

Chris Pitts

House of Fraser director of womenswear merchandising Chris Pitts

The first thing I do in the morning is check my emails on the train into work and then head out to Hyde Park for a run. I find this clears my head and sets me up for the day.

For me, no two weeks are ever the same. However, like most people in the industry, Monday is all about reviewing the previous week’s performance and setting the key focus for the week ahead. I will see all of the teams to get as much feedback as possible before presenting back to the board. I am in the final product sign-offs for all product areas and I also try to attend as many concession reviews as possible. I do still analyse the numbers, but I’m much more reliant now on my teams to produce the analysis which I make decisions on at a more top line level. I also make recommendations to the senior board on which strategy we should be pursuing.

Tuesday is a key day for me to catch up with my direct reports. The womenswear merchandising team consists of 34 people who I’m ultimately responsible for, while I also have nine direct reports. Management of the team is probably the most important aspect of my role. A big part of my motivation for my job comes from building a happy and entrepreneurial working environment, and I believe this translates into a successful and profitable team. Without the team pulling in the same direction, nothing will be achieved.

The rest of the time will be spent talking to our current brands and potential new ones, working with store regional directors to ensure our ranges are being delivered to the best of their potential to our customers, as well as catching up with our multichannel team and getting out to stores. At certain times of the year I may be in New York, China or India to meet our overseas brands and suppliers.

The merchandising team interact with numerous departments in the business. On a daily basis I spend a lot of time with our apparel executive director, director of buying and head of buying, as well as our design director. Outside of the central buying office teams we’re always interacting with the multichannel team and the store teams. I also have regular weekly catch-ups with the external business team, visual team, finance team, logistics, human resources and the planning team – so pretty much every department in the business.

I got into merchandising after leaving university in Plymouth, where I studied geography. My housemate at the time was an allocator for a retail chain and, being interested in fashion and enjoying statistics, this seemed like an ideal job. My first boss at House of Fraser was my assistant merchandiser Dani Cervantes Smith. She’s now my merchandise manager, so she must have trained me well. 

When I first began in merchandising there was little concept of any kind of multichannel business and it was all about stores. Now, as merchandisers, we need to have a far broader understanding and ensure our customers are able to get what they want at any time. The growth of the online business has seen the biggest change to our roles and one that we are continuing to adapt to. We now plan all of our buys for the web completely separately to the store. We have to factor in gross sales as well as net sales due to the higher level of returns from an online business. As there are not the physical space issues online (apart from warehouse space) you are less restricted on the width of offer you can offer the customer.

However, although the role is always evolving, the basic concepts of core merchandising from range planning, stock availability, markdown management, commercially trading the proposition and making decisions based on profit and commerciality will always set you up well.

I love the variety of my role. As a merchandiser you have plenty of freedom and are encouraged to try new things. I really enjoy seeing calculated risks come off, but I think the best part is seeing your team grow and develop through the business. Retail is a very competitive industry and this appeals to my nature. As a team, we are constantly trying to be the best we can.

Linea

Linea

Spring 16 collection

Along the way I have learnt to take on as much advice from people within the industry as possible and I’ve been lucky to work with many inspirational and exceptional retailers over the past 10 years, such as HoF chief executive Nigel Oddy, Allan Winstanley (chief merchandise officer at de Bijenkorf in Holland), Jim Gerety (HoF merchandising director) and Jackie Hay (HoF executive director, apparel and accessories). I also learnt that you can’t do everything on your own. You need to build a team, learn to delegate, bring the team with you on the journey and trust them. If you don’t give people an opportunity to be engaged, they won’t stay.

Another key lesson would be to listen with undivided attention so that individuals feel supported and confident to explore their ideas fully.

Plan B

I would love to have done something to do with the sports industry, either within running or football. Ideally it would have been as an athlete, although something on the commercial side would have also been appealing.

CV

Education

1996-1999 University of Plymouth BSc (Hons) Geography

Career

2012- present Director of merchandising, womenswear - House of Fraser

2011-2012 Director of merchandising, homeware and food - House of Fraser

2010-2011 Merchandise manager, homeware and food - House of Fraser

2007-2010 Senior merchandiser, homeware - House of Fraser

2006-2007 Merchandiser, homeware - House of Fraser

2005-2006 Junior merchandiser, homeware - House of Fraser

2002-2005 Senior assistant merchandiser planner - Aquascutum

2001-2002 Assistant merchandiser, fashion accessories - House of Fraser

2000-2001 Allocator, fashion accessories - House of Fraser

 

 

 

 

 

 

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