“Many of life’s failures did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up” THOMAS EDISON
My first step on the buying ladder began in the tantalizing suburbs of Watford working for Mothercare PLC. Despite the inauspicious surrounds, it was undoubtedly one of the most positive introductions into the industry that I could have hoped for –but not without it’s false starts.
Firstly, having had no prior fashion experience, I joined the “Stock Replenishment” division. 6 months into staring at spreadsheets and screens all day was enough for me to know that my destiny lay in the buying of product rather than the ranging of it. I embarked on a series of interviews and -without the requisite fashion degree- had to jump through several hoops before finally landing a Buyer’s Admin position in the same business.
Full of the enthusiasm that befits most graduates, I was determined to work my way to Buyer quickly. I was more than a little put out then, to find that this was no fast path to travel, trend-spotting and glamour. In fact, my main duties were to open the post, tidy the sample cupboard and become an expert in filing. BUT, I was so excited to be a spoke in the wheel that takes the product from source to shopfloor -even if I was only responsible for getting the barcodes onto our till system- that I managed to find enjoyment even at the most basic admin level.
This enjoyment sustained me through endless days (and nights) tapping away at the clunky IT system and making tea for just about anybody who asked. Having been prepared to buckle down and learn from those around me, I was rewarded a year later with a promotion on the Babywear department.
My new role meant that I was lucky enough to work with an inspirational buyer and a knowledgeable team. Retail, however, is a tough beast and despite the supportive environment I was in, there were occasions when I was working long hours with little reward. I would be lying if I didn’t say that a change of career wasn’t something I considered from time to time.
My path since that point has lead me from hours of toil, working in one of the most challenging buying environments in the city –I lasted 6 months- through to delivering a market-leading product launch to to the press, right up to taking in the latest fashion trends on the piazzas of Florence.
For the purpose of anybody who is thinking of getting into buying or who is currently stuck on the first rung of that ladder, I would direct you to the quote at the start of this blog post. It is one I return to time and time again as I think it really does best summarise my journey from starting out in the fashion business back in the early 2000s to where I am today.
My stretch in buying – and in particular at John Lewis- has meant a lot of time spent away from home, a not insignificant amount of persistence in the face of a tough economy and perhaps sacrificing the odd peaceful Sunday evening before the Monday sales figures arrive. Sometimes I have had to take 1 step back on the career ladder in order to take 2 steps forward.
It has also taken me all over the world from Sri Lanka, India and China to the most exciting cities in Europe and put me in front of some of the most inspiring characters in retail. Latterly, it has afforded me the privilege of passing on my knowledge and experience to the hard-working team surrounding me.
It is a hard and competitive road but hugely rewarding for those who know they have passion for product, an aspiration to meet the needs of their customers and are prepared to invest time developing their commercial skills. Most importantly, the rewards are greatest for those who are prepared to go the extra mile for it and never, ever give up.
Author: Beth Pettet - Rise Committee Member & Buyer Mens Branded Casualwear, John Lewis