The role of merchandising within fashion and the sports product industry is really an amazing aspect of business, one that actually seems to leave many in question of what it is a merchandiser really does. For the longest time I personally had no clue of what the specifics were when discussing the responsibilities of a merchant, however, with the support of faculty and further research I have found that the following is what makes merchandising as clear as mud.
For many of those interested in getting into the sports product industry and think that the only way into a Nike, Patagonia, or Under Armour is to be a footwear designer, marketer or accountant need to dig deeper. There are other ways to get a foot in the door that include roles that are much more than just numbers and analytics but that also require a creative mindset and sense of fashion. One of those talents is that of a merchant, which has the ability to mix instinct with hard data in order to build “product selections” that us as the customer will ultimately want to buy.
This is the “art vs. science” aspect of merchandising that hones in on the importance of trend forecasting and customer profiling. Having the mindset to understand the influence of trade shows and fashion weeks within the sourcing and selection process. This ties in when it’s time to consider how best to plan your range, develop product and negotiate to get the best result.
It is the job of a merchandiser to create a structure that supports and keeps pace with a brands growth strategy, and to translate and deliver the products compelling story with integrity.
Necessary skills a merchandiser has is the ability to provide direction to product partners regarding market opportunities, consumer insights, and product assortments. Partnering with the product team in assorting the category focusing on strategic targets, local market characteristics, budgets and SKU counts. Maintaining a strong understanding of product demand, forecast and inventory levels will help the brand continue to grow for the long term. This is essential in creating and sustaining longevity in this industry.
The creative aspect relies on the ability to ensure the category vision and stories that are seen and meant to be told in market. For those aspiring designers, this is where you will have an opportunity to interact with the design and product teams to provide personal strong judgment and direction when making feature/functionality/schedule trade-offs. Also, having the ability to guide marketing materials in with the creative marketing team to clearly analyze and communicate competitive positioning, market, and opportunities.
Ultimately, to succeed at a high level takes the ability to be that person that can work cross-functionally in order to build collaborative and supportive operating environments. What is exciting about a role like this is being able to work with departments from design to finance. For those interested in more than one aspect of this business, being a merchandiser allows one to have conversations and build on other skills all while mastering the craft of merchandising.