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Written by David Lyon

Can a Retail Buyer become a Procurement Buyer?

Two professions that share a title, but where there is very little industry talent exchange.

Once a retail buyer,  an individual tends to stay on that path, growing through the function and taking on ever higher buying roles or category management roles….. and it’s the same in industry… graduates start out as buyers or procurement managers and grow their careers into roles also called category management.

Ostensibly, these two functions share a set of role titles.  They share buying tools & techniques and they deal with similar stakeholders, but the are also different enough that there are very few professionals who ever make the transition from one to the other.

Retail buyers are integral to their organisation – selecting ranges and ensuring profitability.  They are pragmatist creatives, often visiting trade fairs, tracking customer trends and working closely with designers and suppliers to select the ranges that will lead to top-line growth.

Industry buyers on the other hand are focused on cost and reducing the bottom line – ever-focused on improving effectiveness of spend and the specifications.

But does it have to be like this?

If you boil it down to the core skills required, they are really very similar…..there is a shared skillset around hard analysis of market conditions and forecasts.   There is a joint understanding of how to work and get the best from suppliers.   There is a focus on profitability, whether it is working with a food technologist to design a ready meal to a retail price-point or working with an engineering team to cost-optimise a machine specification and there is a responsibility for quality that can confer competitive advantage or can completely destroy the brand’s value.

These are two very similar professions…. and with the rise of own brands, they are coming closer.   In the end, the difference may lie in the way that the industry attracts and develops young talent and how effectively we share the common learnings.

Retail buyers often train at university to become skilled in fashion buying.  There are entry level roles in supermarket and department store buying that train and develop in-house talent… and they provide an easy entry point for young people to be associated with a high street brand.

Procurement buyers, however seldom train for the buying profession, some train as engineers and become skilled at the cost side of management… others end up in procurement almost by accident.

So what can we do about it?

As Procurement Academy, we look across all sectors of industry and retail and it is striking that 90% of our courseware is applicable to both professions.   That means that with a small amount of re-training, the transition from one side of the fence to the other can be very easy.

And there are some real advantages for both….

What Retail Buyers Don’t know

In every survey in the last 10 years, Chief Procurement Officers in industry have highlighted a talent shortage.   What that means is that procurement and category management roles in industry can be 2-3 times that of a retail buyer.   AND it can be a hugely strategic function…. Industry procurement is closely aligned with major strategic initiatives – looking to redesign the organisation and seeking out strategic advantage.   In a retail buying function, this type of strategic impact typically stays with the very top few individuals, whereas a category manager in industry can be regularly sitting with his/her director and influencing the direction of the function as a equal member of the team.

What Procurement Buyers Don’t know

On the other hand, Retail Buyers are almost all-powerful in their category.  They are responsible for the product, the price, the promotion, procurement and ultimately the profitability of their range… To all intents and purposes, they are running their own business – the P&L and the revenue. That’s really exciting!  You get to be creative, use your imagination and to stamp your own personality on the organisation.  You’re no longer the department that is holding back “the business” in the pursuit of compliance and contracts… you ARE “the business”.

Both roles have some really exciting features and, at Skill Dynamics, we would encourage both buying functions to learn from one another.   And where it is a question of developing your teams.  We’d encourage a bit more fluidity in this exciting profession.

David is a CPO with experience across multiple industry sectors. Having started his career in textiles and retail, he has since had senior roles in the Electronics, Pharmaceutical and Financial sectors, including Global Head of Corporate Procurement for Pharmaceuticals at Novartis Pharma AG. David led the Cancer Research team that won the 2015 Procurement Leaders award for Transformation and has since delivered "Transformation of procurement" in several well-known multinationals. David is a multilingual professional with over 25 years of Procurement and Supply Chain experience.

David Lyon

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