Our very first Woman We Love of 2015 is someone I think will inspire you to take a risk this year. To make a change if you don’t like something, and to really go after what you want even if it’s scary or totally different, because you know, YOLO (to put it in 2014 terms.) Full disclosure: She’s a good friend of mine from college, so I may be a bit biased, but really, I think you’ll love her.
Her name is Stephanie Morrison, and she’s a buyer and merchandise planner at Bloomingdale’s. It’s basically the coolest job ever, and the only reason she has it is because she took a huge risk. Read on to find out what Stephanie was doing before Bloomies, what made her do a career 180, how she worked her way up, and more.
YOU’RE A BUYER FOR BLOOMINGDALE’S. TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR JOB.
The different merchant teams at Bloomingdale’s are really like small (or somewhat large) business owners. Of course everyone knows a buyer’s role is to select the merchandise for the store, but we are also deeply involved in every aspect of the business: advertising, events, staffing, floor plans, visual, shipping, etc…
It’s so much more than just picking the “right” merchandise – we have to partner with our vendors as well as our internal teams to help execute the vision and strategy for our department. Put simply, a buyer’s job is to drive a profitable business.
WHAT LINES/BRANDS ARE YOU RESPONSIBLE FOR?
Elements brands include: Rebecca Taylor, Parker, Clover Canyon, Milly, Tibi, Nanette Lepore, Rachel Zoe, Mara Hoffman, Cynthia Rowley, Bella Dahl, Cynthia Vincent, etc. There are a few other “little” vendors that make up our assorted matrix.
WHAT’S THE BUYING PROCESS LIKE? WHEN DO YOU FIRST SEE A LINE, AND HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO PICK UP FOR THE STORE?
So I guess I’d want to break this up into two separate answers: The buying process for an existing vendor and the buying process for a new vendor. For an existing vendor the buying process starts well before we even enter the showroom. The buyer and planner work together to create a financial plan for the department, usually by vendor. The plan really dictates the buy because it’s basically the budget, but I won’t bore you with the details of creating a plan…
We buy about six months out; typically we’ll see August/September deliveries in February. We do a LOT of analysis before heading into the market – we take a deep dive into last year to make sure we fully understand what did, or didn’t, work. We have pictures, reports, location analysis etc… It’s really funny because you head into an appointment feeling so prepared after doing all of this analysis, but at the same time you have no idea what you’re about to see. For example, all of my analysis could show I need to buy heavily into dresses, but if the designer decides to focus on separates that season it all sort of goes out the window (true story).
For a new vendor, it really is a gut feeling. As a buyer you really start to feel a personal connection with your department, whether it’s contemporary clothing or hand towels or men’s underwear. You start to live and breathe your merchandise and your customer. So when you go to see new vendors you sort of have to trust that innate feeling to answer a few questions. 1. Is this merchandise a right fit for the Bloomingdale’s brand? 2. Is this merchandise a right fit for my department. 3. Does it fill a void in my current assortment or (my favorite) 4. Are we going to miss the boat if we don’t get behind this brand now? In an industry that’s changing so rapidly, that last one is nearly impossible to answer, but we try.
BUYING SOUNDS A LOT LIKE “SHOPPING,” BUT THERE’S ACTUALLY MUCH MORE TO YOUR JOB THAN JUST SHOWROOM APPOINTMENTS.. WHAT SORTS OF ANALYSIS DO YOU DO TO TRACK THE PERFORMANCE OF WHAT’S ON THE FLOOR? HOW DOES THAT SHAPE YOUR DECISIONS FOR NEXT SEASON?
If I were just shopping all day I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have as many grey hairs as I do right now. I will admit that I absolutely love showroom appointments. It truly feels like a dream job when I walk into a fabulous showroom with beautifully designed clothing and get to pull together an assortment I think our customers are going to love. However, as I mentioned, there is a lot of prep work and analysis to do to before going to market. There are endless (yes, endless!) ways of analyzing the business – by vendor, classification, silhouette, price point. Looking at color vs. print vs. neutrals. Regular price selling vs. markdown selling. Then there’s the location analysis, margin analysis and don’t even get me started on RETURNS! There are congruent returns, non-congruent returns, BCOM returns… Can you sense my anxiety? Let’s just say every move is tracked, analyzed and used to make future decisions.
DOES THE ASSORTMENT VARY BY STORE? HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT GOES WHERE?
The assortment and vendor matrix varies by store. There’s a lot of analysis and negotiation that goes into deciding which vendors will be carried in which locations. The planner builds a financial plan by location to determine how big of an assortment each door will have, so in market we will build assortments based on SKU count needs by location. Assortments can also vary based on the different climate and customer base in each region. Our Florida region is probably the best example of this. The weather is almost always warm (no need for those heavy sweaters/jackets) and they are greatly affected by seasonal traffic (snowbirds and South American tourists).
We also have ground intelligence from selling managers, merchandise managers and selling specialists who give us insight into who the customer is in each location. For example, I know the Century City customer in LA will usually want something sexy, while our customer at the Chevy Chase mall is usually looking for something she can wear to the office. We want to make sure that our assortments are consistent enough to clearly represent our point of view, but can also cater to the specific needs of that location.
YOU ACTUALLY BEGAN YOUR CAREER IN ADVERTISING SALES. HOW DID YOU END UP AT BLOOMINGDALE’S?
Right place, right time. I met Chris (my now husband), made the seemingly random decision to move to NYC and then quit my job in search of something cooler. Something cooler didn’t really work out, so I begrudgingly went back into advertising sales while I figured out the rest of my life. One night Chris and I went to dinner with his grandparents and I listened to his grandfather tell stories about his time at Bloomingdale’s. I was absolutely enthralled by his stories and by the end of the night he recommended I apply. So I did.
YOU STARTED IN BLOOMINGDALE’S BUYING PROGRAM, AN ENTRY-LEVEL ROLE, COMING FROM A MORE SENIOR ROLE IN YOUR PREVIOUS CAREER. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
I actually didn’t even start in the buying program! I was a merchant assistant and needed to work my ass off for a year to even get an interview for the program. I have to admit it was definitely frustrating at times to be working under people who had just graduated college, but I was extremely fortunate to have been placed with one of the best buyers at the company. She truly treated me like I was an equal part of the team and gave me the visibility I needed to be accepted into the buying program.
WHAT WAS THE “BREAKING POINT” WHEN YOU KNEW YOUR CAREER IN ADVERTISING WASN’T FOR YOU?
I am a very practical human being… almost to a fault. I started working in mobile advertising right out of college not because it interested me, but because it was a growing industry with job security. I always said I wouldn’t care what I did for a living as long as I made a lot of money. That all changed when I realized how much I love to work. I realized that my career would never be just a job for me, so I should probably find something I’m passionate about. To be honest, I don’t think I realized how huge of a career change I was making until I was too far in to turn back… which was probably for the best!
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST LEARNING EXPERIENCE AT THE STORE?
The merchandise matters, but not as much as the person selling it. The right sales professional can make or break your season.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST EXPERIENCE THERE SO FAR?
There have been a lot of surreal moments in the past few years, but having Rachel Zoe walk us through her new collection while I’m standing next to Anna Dello Russo has to top the list.
On a more embarrassing note … I used to watch the Rachel Zoe project and The Hills or The City and die over their lives, so a lot of my experiences were first related back to those shows. Like when I first walked up those iconic DVF showroom stairs I thought of Whitney Port and when I went to the Marc Jacobs showroom I thought of LC and I was so giddy to see Joe Zee at a fashion show. It seemed a lot more glamorous when I was watching these things on TV!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It might sound strange, but I love how personal it is. Each buyer’s business is like their child. We need to take care of it and watch it grow. When business is good it’s the best feeling in the world … I also LOVE fashion shows.
WHAT’S THE TOUGHEST PART?
Ha, also how personal it is. When business is bad it’s really heartbreaking.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR SOMEONE CONSIDERING THE IDEA OF A CAREER CHANGE, BUT MIGHT BE UNSURE/SCARED, ETC?
I think we all have a tendency to think the grass is always greener somewhere else. Every job/career has its downfalls, so just be sure you’re not romanticizing the job you want.
Once that check is out of the way then I say go for it!
1. Be open to the new experience and understand there will be a learning curve.
2. Do not to let your ego get in the way – never think you’re above any task.
3. Never, ever think it’s too late
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Here are the words I’ve lived by over the past few years.
“Hard work trumps talent” – Bloomingdale’s GMM
“If you’re not scared shitless by your new job, you haven’t reached high enough” – Leslee Dart, publicist
(from an Elle.com article I was obsessed with)
“Don’t underestimate the power of just being ‘cool’” – my college career counselor