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Retail: the Art and Science

The Fundamentals of Retail Buying
  • Published: November 2004
  • Format: Perfect Bound Softcover(B/W)
  • Pages: 141
  • Size: 5.5x8.5
  • ISBN: 9781436319539
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     I remember when the executive vice president of Best Buy
Retail asked me to teach him about merchandising so that
he could better understand the end-to-end picture of a
retail marketing organization. An odd request? Hardly. Dozens of
people ask me the same question every year. They are the
accountants, store managers, advertising associates, and senior
leaders. And each of them has recognized that the merchant or
buyer is central to any retail organization, and they want some
insight into how it works.

     The role of the retail merchant/buyer has changed over time,
much like the face of retail itself. Think back to the ’50s.
Department stores (Sears, Wards) and variety (S.S. Kressge, G.C.
Murphy, Ben Franklin) dominated the landscape. In the early ’60s,
the deep discount retailers emerged (Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target).
In the ’70s, warehouse clubs (Price, Sam’s, Costco) came into vogue,
and the ’80s gave us specialty superstores (Office Depot, Staples,
Sports Authority, Best Buy). Megastores followed (Wal-Mart
Supercenters, Super Target) in the ’90s.

     As these formats evolved, so did the role of the merchant. The
“old school” buyer selected vendors and items, placed orders,
approved payments, negotiated freight terms . . . basically, they
did it all. Over time, inventory specialization relieved the merchant
of that chore. The role became more focused. Category management
became popular in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, especially
in the food and drug channels. Today, “integration” is the buzz
word. Teaming is fashionable as decision-making authority becomes
shared. As these progressions have taken place, retailers have
benefited from the development of more generalist leaders, yet I’ve
observed that the core merchant skills and knowledge have greatly
diminished. In this observation lies the purpose of this work.

     My goal is to have the book work on three levels. First, this
work is focused on the basics of merchandising. Each section deals
with one of the fundamentals that every merchant needs to
understand. I have attempted to be agnostic with each subject.
That is, these principles should be applicable to all channels of
retail, whether mass, drugstore, specialty store, club, mail order,
or grocery.

     Next, this effort is meant to be a “how to” book with tangible
facts and methods taken from real-world experience within a
merchandising environment. I have always found “how to” books
to be big on nebulous generalities, filled with grand ideas that are
more motivational than they are practical, often leaving the real
subject unaddressed. Within these pages, however, the readers will
find that “how to” means exactly that. This work offers practical
explanations and real lessons that can be applied in retail.

     A final objective is to provide a bridge between the manufacturer
and the retailer (seller and the buyer). Category management has
opened a lot of minds to the idea that collaboration, partnership,
and the sharing of ideas can help all parties to better serve the
consumer. Still, many sales professionals will readily admit that
they do not understand the buyer’s mentality. This book should
close that gap and enable both buyer and seller to realize that their
worlds are actually quite similar.

     As for credentials, I do not profess to be an expert on all subjects,
but I have drawn on my twenty-plus years of merchandising
experience to pull this material together. During that time, I have

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