What It Takes To Be An Impact Merchant

HomeWorld Business salutes influential housewares buyers and merchandise managers in this annual Impact Merchants edition (July 22, 2019).

Our editors surveyed vendors in core housewares categories to nominate the merchants profiled beginning on page 10.

Time-Tested Attributes

The criteria for Impact Merchant recognition has remained fairly steady during the 20 years of this special HomeWorld feature. Vendors were encouraged to nominate buyers based not on the sales volumes they represent, but on professional attributes that lead to sales success. These include product knowledge, trend and market insight, presentation creativity, promotional acuity, collaborative spirit and, perhaps most important, decisiveness.

These are time-tested merchandising responsibilities that often seem shackled by the restrictive mandates of a mass retailing business whose aversion to risk escalated initially with widespread consolidation, then again with the rise of e-commerce.

Merchant as a professional identity often seems to battle obsolescence, confronted by the starkness of spreadsheets and the indifference of algorithms that have threatened to wipe the human factor from buying decisions.

So, it is a crucial period for retail buying teams and leadership. It takes even more determination, on top of the traditional skills, to stand out as an Impact Merchant in today’s on-demand retail business. Effective merchants must apply deeper market analytics. They must capitalize nimbly on faster-changing tastes and trends. They must serve ever-evolving generational differences. They must balance often divergent in-store and digital considerations.

Complex Profession

Today’s Impact Merchants have no choice but to bring new-age financial, operational and technological tools to the negotiating tables. However, it is encouraging to hear vendors praise the old-school enthusiasm and instincts of this year’s Impact Merchants.

Merchandising today is a complex profession that doesn’t always get enough credit for having to navigate through such complexity. Success demands decisive action on new ideas and opportunities while applying measures to manage risk reasonably.

Buyer training programs once overflowed with gifted applicants drawn to the status and growth potential of merchandising careers. Now retailing companies most in danger of obsolescence are fighting harder to attract young buying talent.

Informed Instincts

Retail management would do well in their recruiting efforts to showcase this year’s Impact Merchants, among many dedicated merchandising professionals whose enthusiastic, informed instincts continue to overcome the barriers of today’s retail pressure cooker.

Automated, spread-sheet methods for retail stocking and replenishment, however necessary in the quest for optimum efficiency, have normalized faceless indifference in the housewares vendor-buyer dynamic. But such “progress” has heightened the appreciation for influential merchandising practices that continue to empower personal insight, creativity, collaboration and decisiveness.

Twenty years later, that’s still what it takes to be an Impact Merchant.