Career Planning

RETAILING IN ACTION A.1: The Position of the Buyer, DMM, and GM

The position of buyer is one of the most recognized and least understood in business. The job is not simply traveling to New York, or other major market centers, and buying millions of dollars of merchandise.

Rather, the job is more like being the total product manager for your business. It is the first important front-line position in retailing. At consumer goods companies, the product manager develops the annual marketing plan for a particular consumer product with an eye toward achieving the business objective. As a buyer, you are performing the same function for your merchandise line -- such as men's sportswear, women's clothing, or consumer appliances.

You are expected to reach targeted levels of sales and profit goals. You will develop strategies to address the specific customer profile for your merchandise while featuring the most-wanted vendors in the correct merchandise mix and at the best price points. You will also be monitoring and maintaining gross margin plans by controlling markups, markdowns, shortages, turnover and stock levels. (Don't worry about all these terms if you are reading them for the first time. They will all be explained in detail in later chapters.) You have to develop, budget, and implement advertising and promotion plans.

At the same time, emphasis has to be placed on your people and leadership skills. You are expected to train, develop and counsel the assistant buyers and department managers now working in partnership with you.

As your job responsibilities grow, so do the tools available to assist you. Larger retailers provide more sophisticated merchandise information systems that allow quick and efficient responses to changes in the market. They also have established planning processes for seasonal planning, forecasting and assortment planning.

After the buyer position, your career can grow in many directions. In the merchandising area, the next positions are divisional merchandise manager (essentially a group management job) and then general merchandise manager (the most significant line position next to the store president).

The Divisional Merchandise Manager (DMM) is responsible for merchandising activities for particular lines of merchandise. For example, the women's wear DMM supervises those buyers who purchase merchandise such as dresses, coats, blouses, and sweaters.

Divisional merchandise managers, regardless of the retailer's size, will have four basic duties:

  1. Forecasting sales for the forthcoming budget period. This involves estimating consumer demand and the impact of changes in the retail environment. Charles Lazarus, the founder and CEO of Toys "R" Us Inc., is said to be one of the most successful forecasters in the business; successful "not because he guesses the winners (both merchandise and markets) right but because he rarely guesses at all." He is quick to spot trends before they occur and likewise in dropping products before the trends play out.

    Another highly successful DMM attributed her recent success to not letting her buyers load up on the merchandise everybody else was getting. Her reasoning was that as American females were getting older, their size and figures were no longer capable of wearing such clothing, despite a desire to retain a youthful appearance. Successful retailers, as we showed in detail in Chapter 16, "Retail Information Systems," must not base their decisions on intuition but on market research and information.

  2. Translating the sales forecast into dollar inventory levels. To do this effectively, the DMM needs to know what inventory levels are necessary to support the level of forecasted sales.

  3. Inspiring commitment and performance on the part of the buyers and department managers. The buyers will need to procure the right types of merchandise and the DMM can assist by providing the buyer with lists of vendors that must be seen, and should be avoided. The DMM must also assist the department manager in moving the merchandise after it reaches the store.

  4. Assessing not only the merchandise performance but also the buyer's performance in order to provide control and maintain high performance results. While most retail organizations have for years conducted detailed post-season performance evaluations of vendors and products, few have looked closely at the buyers.

In most large retail firms there will be a general merchandise manager (GMM) who would probably hold the rank of vice president. Because this executive has a high position in the organizational hierarchy, he or she will not get involved in many day-to-day merchandise management problems. Rather, the GMM would more likely be involved with quarterly, seasonal, or annual planning, budgeting and controlling of merchandising activities.

Careers can be pursued in other areas of department store retailing. While opportunities are not as abundant as those that exist in store operations and store merchandising, they do exist. There are opportunities in the Human Resources or Personnel Departments. Particularly, there is the need for college recruiters and people to conduct training classes. In addition, careers in advertising and other phases of promotion exist. There are opportunities for individuals to work in the accounting function. With declining profits, this area takes on an added importance. Finally, career opportunities can be found in management information systems, real estate, and marketing research.

Discount Stores

Major discount stores, such as Wal-Mart and Kmart are continuing to make use of college graduates. They recruit all college majors, because most retailing majors are interested in careers in department stores. Excellent opportunities exist in discount store retailing. For example, Wal-Mart's growth and expansion (over 150 stores each year) is fueled by career-oriented people who are willing to relocate as they progress within the company. Exhibit A.2 indicates the career opportunities at Jamesway Discount Department Stores, a large regional chain in northeastern United States.

EXHIBIT A.2 Career Opportunities at Jamesway Corporation.

Jamesway Corporation is a major regional discount store chain, currently operating stores in seven mid-Atlantic states.  The stores average 50,000 square feet and incorporate the most modern concepts in the discount retail industry. 

Career Opportunities  Jamesway's Store Management Executive Training Program prepares an individual to assume managerial responsibilities in as little as six months.  The newly hired individual learns by doing, and the program is tailored to individual abilities and attributes.  Upon completion of  the  training  program,  the individual is assigned as an Assistant Store Manager, and successful performance in that position is regarded with promotion to Store Manager or another position. 

Source: Based on information provided by the Jamesway Corporation. 

Exhibit A.3 provides the career paths available for store management at the Kmart Corporation, the nation's second largest retailer, which prides itself on making "promotion from within" an important priority.


In Exhibit A.4, we can view the typical career path at Clover Discount Stores, a division of Strawbridge and Clothier, a large chain headquartered in the Philadelphia area.

Merchandise department managers are responsible for certain merchandise lines on the selling floor, and they have five major tasks:

  1. To work with the buyer on the unit inventory plan, especially regarding merchandise assortments. Since department managers are closer to the customer than buyers are, they should have a better feel for the specific type of merchandise that will sell well.

  2. To lead, motivate, and guide the sales personnel. The sales personnel need to know their merchandise and how to present and sell it to the customer.

  3. To monitor changing consumer tastes and wants for the merchandise lines being sold. On a recurring basis, the department manager needs to examine what the customer wants.

  4. To make certain that customers are properly served. Customer complaints, suggestions, questions, or praise must be properly handled.

  5. To work with the store's display staff so that the department's displays are coordinated with the merchandising plans.

Further, the store management career path at a Clover Discount store is fully traced in Retailing In Action A.2. Store management progression is similar at most other discount stores.

Return to Index   |   Continue

Copyright © 2005 South-Western. All Rights Reserved.
webmaster