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Assistant Buyer

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To really distill it, the assistant buyer assists the buyer.  We here at Apparel Search prefer to go beyond stating the obvious.  Being an assistant buyer in the apparel industry requires more of an individual than just being a sidekick to the senior buyer. 

An assistant buyer could work in any department of any company where a senior buyer would.  Most people in this position are upwardly mobile.  They are not only mastering the position of assistant, but also being developed professionally by the senior buyer who they are assisting, in order to become senior purchasing agents themselves in the future.  A stint as an assistant buyer is an excellent and logical stepping stone to move from doing administrative work for the senior buyer of a department into an actual buying position.

It is also appropriate as a stepping stone for a recent graduate with at least a year's buying experience.  Recent graduates have an understanding of the business but need more practical experience, and acting as an assistant buyer gives them more of the experience without the risk of their making huge mistakes due to inexperience.  They maintain a high level of accountability to the senior buyer.

So what skills does it take to be successful as an Assistant Buyer? breaks it down to four main categories: 

  • Excellent administrative skills
  • Ability to handle a fast-paced environment
  • Negotiation and communication skills
  • Enthusiastic awareness of the market

Candidates for an assistant buyer position need to have top-notch abilities in the administrative arena.  Attention to detail and thoroughness with forms and filing and follow-up will save your senior buyer headaches.  Your ability to plan and organize can make or break both your reputations.  If you stay on top of reports on sales margins and current or discontinued stock (which will be yours to keep track of if the senior buyer does not have a buyer's admin), you keep both you and your senior buyer from looking bad. 

Slow and steady does not win any races in the world of fashion.  Fashion is defined by change, and decisions must be made, orders placed, and items delivered immediately.  Fashion is in the moment and of the moment, so you have to be light on your feet and heavy on quick results.  Time is of the essence in previewing pre-season items, approving production samples, presenting new items, or developing existing products. 

You have to be able to negotiate with suppliers, even as an assistant buyer, for a few reasons.  Firstly, you will probably be personally responsible for sourcing a limited range of products.  Secondly, the senior buyer is only human, and will have to take sick days and vacations, or meet with other suppliers, and the responsibility to take on the role of a senior buyer in his or her absence will land in your fashionable lap.  Thirdly, quality service is provided to your stores and your customers when your supply is adequately managed. 

In addition, you will be a part of a team inside of a much larger entity your company.  You will need to communicate effectively with lots of different people in several departments on a regular basis in order to do your job.  The key word is effectively quickly and clearly and politely.  It's easier to say than to do.  The time will come, too, when every assistant buyer gets the chance to present new ideas, either to the senior buyer, or to the team, so some brushing up on presentation or public speaking skills is likely in your future.  (Practice in a mirror if you have to!)

Awareness of the fashion market is more than just knowing facts and figures in order to make informed decisions.  That's important let's not play it down.  Everything from ordering to pricing is based on those figures.  If the pricing structure isn't in line with the market as well as the needed margins agreed upon by your company, then you're looking at neither remaining comparable nor competitive in the fashion marketplace.

But fashion market awareness should include fashion market passion.  Enthusiasm can be the missing ingredient or the one that sends your career into orbit.  Caring about your company and caring about its products makes the difference between being mediocre as an assistant buyer and being stellar.  Passion for your product and an informed focus on your consumers are required to make the right buying decisions.  These buying decisions have to be made not only with the end consumers at heart, but also with the best interest of the stores (your
internal customers) in mind.  You may even have to visit your internal customers to make sure that you have a clear understanding of what products needs they have in order to operate and succeed in the target market(s).

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If you are an assistant buyer, educator, or simply someone knowledgeable about various aspects of fashion careers, you are welcome to share your thoughts below.  Please only post educational information or questions specifically relevant to the job of assistant buyer in the apparel industry.
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