January 21, 2018

Career Column: Buying for Sephora (so the rest of us can buy from Sephora)

My daughter’s boss’s friend’s daughter has what many young women would consider to be “the best job ever.”  She is a buyer for Sephora, the high end cosmetics retailer with well stocked independent store locations in malls all across the United States, Canada, and Europe.  I made it my mission to find out how one goes about getting this job and what the job might entail.  Here’s what I discovered:

The headquarters for Sephora USA is in San Francisco and most corporate level positions are located there.   Posted openings on Sephora’s website include one for an assistant merchandise planner and another for a planning manager.  Although these are not buying jobs exactly, they are closely related.   The assistant planner’s responsibility is to help with the creation of SKU (stock keeping units) forecasts and the placement of orders and requires 1-2 years of corporate retail planning experience.

I also looked at openings for buyers for similar companies and found this list of qualifications for an accessories buyer for Juicy Couture, a brand well known to Sephora shoppers:

  • 8+ years of Buying experience, 2+ years of previous management experience
  • Keen understanding and interest in fashion industry and trends
  • Excellent Retail Math and Excel skills
  • Proven vision for building line plans and assortments(and other qualifications that are less specific to the position and industry). 

I also found out that an associate buyer of dress collections at Saks Fifth Avenue needs 3 – 4 years of business experience and “strong business and financial analysis skills,” among other requirements.  Nothing in the rather long list of requirements for the Saks position had anything to do with a vision or interest in beautiful clothes, but perhaps having such an interest goes without saying.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Buyers purchase merchandise for resale from wholesalers or manufacturers. Using historical records, market analysis, and their sense of consumer demand, they buy merchandise, keeping in mind their customers’ demand for style, quality, and a reasonable price range. Wrong decisions mean that the store will mark down slow-selling merchandise, thus losing profits.” 

An assistant buyer for natural skin care products for Sephora gave an interview to the website “I Want Her Job” (more about the website below).  She reports that she started out in an unrelated retail business and moved on to become an account coordinator and later an account executive for a manufacturer who sold products to Sephora.  She moved over to Sephora from there.  It is evident from her interview that she loves cosmetics and loves working for the company.  She describes what she does each day this way:  “I help determine the correct assortment of products to carry and how they will be merchandised. I am not just involved in skin care merchandising, but I also work closely with our marketing, education, operations and inventory teams.” 

In sum, to become a buyer in the fashion or cosmetics industries, it is vital to have a good head for numbers and to be motivated to achieve business goals.  A buyer might also work long and unpredictable hours and will need to be able to respond quickly and manage stress well.  For someone who has these qualities and loves the products the industry sells, a career as a buyer could be very exciting.  Like any other good job, it takes a lot of work, persistence, and drive to get there.  Relevant internships and retail sales experience would be a good first step.  A college degree is not always essential, but it is desirable, and a business or merchandising degree could be a requirement for some positions.  According to salary.com, the median annual salary for an experienced buyer in New York is $77,000. 

Career Resource

IWantHerJob.com (www.iwantherjob.com ) is an inspiring website that profiles women who love their jobs.   The site is a pleasure to view, interviews are informative, and women with all kinds of interesting jobs are profiled.  The site is fairly new so hopefully there will be a wider range of jobs profiled over time.  The interview with the assistant buyer for Sephora is here:  www.iwantherjob.com/cassie-cowman/ .

Karen Goldfinger, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Essex, Connecticut.   She specializes in psychological assessment for clinical, educational, and forensic purposes and has a special interest in career assessment.  She and two partners recently established KSB Career Consultants, LLC to provide on line career consultation for clients in Connecticut and New York.   Contact her with questions,  comments, or suggestions for the column at karengoldfinger@comcast.net

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