How to master the art of retail buying

David Feakins, CEO and founder of Modus Brands, uses his experience to explore the importance of being a good buyer.
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David Feakins Modus Brands

The ability to sell well is important. However, with so much effort concentrated on understanding how to persuade someone to take your product, a case could be made for the job of the person on the other side of the deal is that much harder - and therefore just as – if not more – important.

Being a retail buyer isn’t easy, and the job at its most fundamental is still filled with pressure. Responsible for the planning, selecting and eventual purchasing of goods and merchandise, the ability of a buyer can make a huge difference to a business’ success. On top of this, problems such as budgeting complications, relationships and tough decision making all make retail buying highly complex. So how can this art be mastered?

Selecting the Right Business

The job of a buyer begins by choosing brands or suppliers to do work with. It isn’t the most common problem, but working across borders can become problematic at every level of buying, and it’s important to prepare correctly. Whilst choosing distributors that remove the frustrations of dealing with brands across borders is a simple way around this problem, the chances are you will eventually bump into some international barriers.

Potential roadblocks such as culture, language and timezone (oftentimes, all three at once) all come into play in buying around the globe. Different corners of the world perform all sorts of different business practices. For example, diving straight into business before getting to know someone is heavily frowned upon in Turkey, and during negotiations, the use of pressure tactics should be completely avoided.

It can become stressful, but trouble is easily avoided. A good buyer remains patient, listens and adapts to the environment around them. Doing your homework always pays off when it comes to researching different cultures, and considering that you’ll be doing due diligence behind a company or product, you might as well go that step further to understand who you are dealing with (and where). You might also be surprised at how well received your efforts are.

Another key factor in choosing new suppliers is taking the time to assess every opportunity.

The life of a buyer is a very busy one - and being approached by different distributors will become a frequent occurrence. It’s vital that buyers don’t become too focused on ignoring new business, and cutting any chance of new opportunities as a result.

The best buyers want to work with someone honest, open, and with a strong plan to grow, and while they might already have that in who they are already in business with, pays off to always be on the lookout for better; to constantly improve and expand.

Building Relationships

Honesty, trust and mutual respect are three key factors when it comes to developing relationships and working with dealers. Just as they trust that buyers are giving them the best prices and services as possible, that goodwill needs to be forthcoming on their side too - and as a buyer, it’s important to remember that.

Relationships are hugely important in this line of work, and it may mean missing out on other opportunities that cut your costs on a short-term basis, in order to preserve long-term reliability elsewhere - it’s a much more valuable asset for a business, let alone a buyer.

Holding good relationships with salespeople can give buyers access and insight exclusive to them. Companies will share information for upcoming projects unavailable to the public, and this inside knowledge can promise huge benefits in the buying process - allowing for a much more accurate forecast.

Not only that, but these relationships can offer stability. A well-known supplier grants reliable products, prices and services for as long as that feeling is sustained. Couple this with the inside access and the buying process becomes much easier.

The Difficulty of Decisions

Making decisions is at the very core of a buyer’s job. Negotiating, choosing between suppliers or picking products - some are easier than others, and every now and then you’ll need to answer some extremely tough ones.

Difficult decisions can arise on a daily basis, and while a lot of it comes down to experience and knowledge, the bottom line is that logic must always prevail. It could be easy to make choices based on personal interest, but numbers never lie.

Spelling it out loud makes it sound so simple, but it’s a truth that can sometimes escape the mind of a buyer.

Prioritise your brand and make calculated choices in sales and targets - and ensure they tick every single box before coming to a conclusion.

Slowing it Down

In buying, you have to play the long game. Decision making can be a tough process - we’ve already discussed that - so why rush? Yes, making a purchase takes less than seconds, but the wider reach of a buyer’s job takes time - building relationships, selecting suppliers - it can take no end of meetings and calls.

Research comes into play in every department - take the time to look into a product’s target market and competitions to see how it stacks up. Even going as far as looking into customer reviews on various channels, and which countries it’s available in.

The pricing of a product is important, but not definitive, and after-sale support can make or break a brand. It’s the long game - does a company have a robust repair/return system? There’s more than spending money to buying - everything has to be followed through thoroughly, and it takes a lot of patience.

The responsibilities of a retail buyer are more complex than ever as the landscape becomes increasingly more competitive and pressures on the role intensify. As budgets continue to be pinched and anxiety around political issues such as Brexit persists, having the right buyer in place to navigate the minefield of purchasing the right products could make or break a business.

David Feakins is the CEO and founder of Modus Brands.

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