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Interview with Lizzy, Buyer for Urban Outfitters Home Depart
Lizzy a buyer from Urban Outfitters Home Department gives us some insight about what it's like working within the company and what to expect in a buyer position!
Hi Lizzy, can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do at Urban Outfitters?
I started as a Buying Assistant (BA) at Urban Outfitters five and a half years ago and I am currently working as a Buyer in the home department. I started looking after the books category and now I oversee the whole lifestyle category which is music, books, stationery and electronics. Basically anything the customer is interested in when they come in the store, that isn't clothes.
Can you tell us about your career route?
I did a Fine Art degree at Kingston University where I specialised in painting and photography. I’d worked for a merchandising company just temping, so I did band merchandise at the Roundhouse and I also used to work for the Star Wars exhibition as a photographer. I worked at the Houses of Parliament for a year as a Personal Assistant (PA) and then I decided I didn't want to be a civil servant, I wanted to go in to buying.
I applied for a BA job at Urban, and I’ve been here ever since. I think doing a Fine Art degree has really helped with the creative side of things. There are a lot of numbers too though. I’d say its 60% numbers and spreadsheets and 40% just absorbing things and having an eye for it. I go to a lot of galleries and gigs in my spare time so it just comes naturally to me. I visit New York and travel to other places for enjoyment so I get a lot of inspiration day to day.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Normally when I come in to the office I check my 10,000 emails and clear through as much as I can, but other than that it varies so much day by day.
Early in the week we meet with the planning team and look to how well products have sold and react based on those figures. As the week progresses, we meet with other sections of the business. We meet with press and marketing to make sure that everything is being presented in the correct way throughout the business.
There are a lot of meetings with suppliers and a lot of travel too. A big part of the job is actually dealing with account queries. Every day is different and you have to be able to think on your feet: every day is like a fire-fight.
What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
I think the biggest challenge for anyone looking for a career in buying is getting from Buyers Assistant (BA) to an Assistant Buyer (AB). As a BA a lot is expected of you: you have so much admin to do but you’re also trying to prove that you can buy. When you move in to buying, there is so much happening. We have 500 suppliers, so you are dealing with all of those different people on a daily basis and it’s a real challenge.
The next biggest jump is from Junior Buyer to Buyer and you have to prove that you can independently manage OTB’s (Open-to-Buys) to the budgets, manage a team, and ensure the development of that team around you.
What advice would you have for anyone looking to do the same?
Don’t give up! The buying role is not for the faint-hearted, but if you want it enough you’ll do it. If you show passion, people around you will see that and guide you. You also have to have an eye for certain products. If you want to be a buyer you are expected to find products you think will sell.
You should try different things too though, move around. I've worked on 10 different product areas since I started. I've worked in every department of the home category but I decided I wanted to work in gift, electronic and media based products.
What has been your greatest accomplishment at Urban Outfitters?
When I took over the books business it was a million pound business. Over the last four years we've managed to turn it into a £5 million business. We are the most important bookseller on the high street. Unfortunately lots of booksellers are getting closed down, but we are getting books in front of people who wouldn't usually go to book shops. The publishers come to us for advice on covers, we choose covers and we have ideas for books. We work with publishers closely. We've built this relationship with a publisher that’s still growing, which is really exciting. In a world where print is declining it’s amazing we are seeing this growth in books and supporting the publishing world in this way.