• Joanne Neidorf

Merchant Academy: Closing the Merchant Development Gap

I'm going to admit something that makes me feel ancient... I have worked in retail buying and planning for more than 20 years! And while I have seen a lot of things change over that time, there are also things that have remained consistent over the years and across all the retail organizations I have worked in and with.

When I started out as an Assistant Buyer (and what I still hear from people in entry-level roles today) I wanted to know:

How can I learn what I need to get promoted?

Mid-career the question shifts to:

How do I get to everything? How do I know I'm focusing on the right things?

And finally, I often hear from senior leadership:

How do I know everyone is making the best decisions for their business?

The more I thought about this - and especially as I thought about how universal and consistent these questions are - the more I realized two things:

  • All of these questions relate to building a Buyer or Merchandise Planner's ability to "think like a Merchant"

  • Training and developing this crucial skill is most often ad hoc and incomplete in most retail organizations

What Does it Mean to "Think Like a Merchant?"

I don't mean the obvious: "Buy Low / Sell High" (though that's important too)!

Thinking like a Merchant means you drive your business by:

  • Asking the right questions

  • Getting the right data

  • Considering all reasonable options for action

  • Understanding the implications of your decisions - including their impact on other functions in your organization

  • Acting effectively on those decisions

In turn, doing these things leads to better decisions and better business results. In an entry-level position, developing these skills makes you ready for promotion.


Mid-career, these skills help you focus on what's most impactful for your business.


And if you sit at the top of the organization, knowing your Buyers and Merchandise Planners have these skills raises your confidence in their decision-making and allows you to focus less on reactive fire-fighting and more on pro-active business-expanding ideas and initiatives.

Filling the Development Gap

Once I realized what was missing in most retail training programs, I set out to fill that gap. Suddenly my career path - which I'll admit was more serendipitous than strategic - turned out to be perfect for this task.

I had started out as an Assistant Buyer and moved up within Buying organizations at different retailers. After nearly 10 years of buying (and planning) experience, I shifted to retail consulting, working with Buyers and Merchandise Planners across North America, Europe and the Middle East.

I had worked in nearly every retail format and environment. I had had extensive Private Label experience. I had worked in apparel, footwear, accessories and hard goods at different points in my career. I had worked in and with organizations both large and small; in both growing and contracting markets.

This diverse experience gave me the insight into what is universal - and core - to the job of being a retail merchant or planner. I could see what drove good decisions and how bad decisions could be avoided in any context. And I loved thinking about - and sharing ideas about - how a buyer or planner could be more successful no matter what situation they found themselves in.

Merchant Academy was created by taking these insights and turning them into training to develop better decision-making skills. And since decision-making in a complex retail environment can never be prescriptive, the courses focus on:

  • Highlighting key questions

  • Outlining what to consider in making a decision

  • Suggesting alternative responses

  • Encouraging creativity

  • Applying new ideas to your business with structured assignments

  • Encouraging discussion and collaboration with buying and planning colleagues, managers and cross-functional partners

Finally, to be truly effective, I created Merchant Academy to be:

  • Easy to access

  • Engaging. Interesting. Fun

  • Relevant

Email us at info@merchant-insight.com to learn more about Merchant Academy and how it can fill the gap in your merchant and planner training and development.

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