11 April, 2016

Putting theory into practice

I knew I wanted to work in retail; I’d completed my Higher Certificate in Fashion Retail Merchandising – but I still wasn’t completely sure where I wanted to go next. Luckily, I’d heard of the Fashion Retail Academy (FRA) and was aware that it was sponsored by top UK retailers. Initially, I was able to secure a place on a five-day course in Buying and Merchandising. This was just what I needed. It helped me finally decide that my skills were much more suited to merchandising, so I applied for the full course.

One of the best things about the FRA was the tutors. They were still very active in the retail industry; many are ex buyers, merchandisers or suppliers, so they had a deep insight into what it takes to do the job and do it well. It was great to learn the theory behind everything, and then put it into practice on my three-week work placement.

When the course was complete, M&S was the obvious choice for me. It wasn’t simply because of their association with the FRA; I’d grown up with them. This was a big influence on my decision, together with the fact they’re such an iconic retailer. I applied for their graduate scheme as this would fast track me into an Assistant Merchandiser role. The variety of placements and course, and the chance to work in store, were a big factor too. It really helped me get inside our customers’ heads and understand what pushed their buttons.

The training programme really is excellent. As well as the technical courses which teach you the detail of how to do your job, there are also lots of courses to develop you as a person; things like leadership skills, negotiating and product knowledge. It’s also a great feeling to work for such a well-known and well-loved brand – I feel really proud to work for M&S.

Teamwork is a huge part of what we do. I’ve never met people so passionate and enthusiastic about making things happen. The 20% store discount comes in handy too. One of the best things about my job is going to factories to understand how our products are made. We’re very big on integrity and doing the right thing. Ensuring our suppliers work in an ethical manner is part of this. It gives you a different perspective on things and helps us build relationships built on trust and shared values.

As a Junior Merchandiser, I'm in charge of my own multi-million-pound-turnover department. It's a huge responsibility and incredibly exciting. What we do is valued by the business because it has a tangible impact on sales. I love both the creative and analytical aspects of what I do, so I can see myself staying in the same career path and learning as much as I possibly can.

To anyone thinking of joining, I'd say you need to be passionate, self-motivated and flexible; we're a fast-paced business, so you have to adapt with it. I'd definitely try and get some work experience in a retail head office too; it will give you useful insights and make you a more marketable proposition to an employer. Remember, also, that fashion isn't necessarily as glamorous as people think; it can be hard work too. That being said, I find it the most exciting and challenging environment. So that's why I love it.

Inside M&S