Merchandising Academy for European Department Store Group

A large european department store group recognised that to ensure their future success they needed to improve merchandise planning, stock management and to develop core merchandising skills. As a result, they planned to introduce a merchandising function to work alongside the buyers.

First Friday has supported them by helping them design the new organisation and processes. First Friday also developed a merchandising training academy that would provide all the essential skills a new merchandise team would need.

Merchandising Academy for European Department Store Group

The Challenge

Initially the business undertook a review of their buying processes, but quickly established a need to introduce merchandising principles with a view to achieve better planning, more commercial decision making, creating a less buyer-led culture and thereby ensure the business was fit for the future.

The existing planning team had backgrounds in finance and accounting and as a result had limited commercial retail experience. Therefore, there was too much focus on history and the past instead of looking forward and forecasting; they calculated absolute answers rather than developing commercial flexible plans; there were excess stocks across many product categories and yet availability was poor on best sellers; they had no common / best process or tools and focused on a financial P&L rather than a customer driven calendar and offer.

As a full merchandising model is rare where they are based, recruitment proved a challenge, and therefore they decided to train their own team and change the job role from Planner to one of a Merchandiser that we would recognise in traditional retail models in the UK.

First Friday was asked to provide best practice training for the new team, beginning initially with the Home division and extending to the Fashion teams.

The Solution

We began by advising on the overall approach to developing a new operating model, team structure and job roles. This took the form of a five-day senior leadership training and engagement event – which was called Boot Camp.

  • It was designed to help the future Heads of Merchandising understand their new role and to drive out the tasks, processes and tools the new function would adopt
  • It followed the retail product lifecycle

Boot Camp for Management

  • Day 1: Overview & Introduction to Pre-Season Planning
  • Day 2: Financial Planning – Create a WSSI
  • Day 3: Range Building & Assortment Planning
  • Day 4: Order Management & In-Season Trading
  • Day 5: Meetings, Reviews, Implementation & Training

Retail is a cycle - steps in the cycle are strategy, plan, buy, move, trade, learn

There were a lot of new concepts for the management team to absorb and it made them aware of the scale of change the business was about to undertake.

The programme to manage the transition and to introduce the new Merchandising Training Academy  was gradual. These change principles ensured the pace was right for their business and that the new ways of working were adopted and embedded.

Developing the Merchandising Training Academy

  • We worked with a steering group from across the business to develop from standard vanilla processes to the new company model which was then converted into training
  • We trained teams across the retail product lifecycle from strategy, to merchandise financial planning, to assortment planning, to trading
  • We focused on the skills and behaviours needed to grow commercial thinking underpinned by pragmatic excel tools and builds on existing software
  • We recognise that it’s the skill that makes the biggest difference and opportunity to practise those skills, so all of our training focuses on role plays and interactive sessions
  • We included their Heads of Merchandising in the training sessions as support to re-enforce the messages and enable debate and learning on real topics and challenges in the very diverse divisions
  • All the training materials were developed in English and then translated into Spanish
  • The training was delivered in the local language
  • A number of courses were delivered to the buyers so that they could understand the new processes and see how the new roles worked together
  • The training consultants who developed this academy all had a very senior background in merchandising. They have an in-depth knowledge of the merchandising processes. They have an in depth understanding of what is it like to be a merchandiser, the pressures they are under and typical business situations and scenarios.

A list of the final modules for the European Department Store's Merchandising Training Academy, including courses for; Foundation, Merchandise Planning, Range Planning, Buyers, Trading, Trading Calendar and Stock Management.

The Results

  • The business now has a comprehensive training academy designed to support and develop merchandising skills across the whole business
  • The business has been able to move forward with pragmatic steps on their transformation journey based on the programme we have created, despite still needing to finalise many of their systems, data and metrics – great merchandising is about skills and processes not about systems
  • They have increased their adoption of data-based decision making as a result of the training, as well as spreading their bets across product assortments, rather than simply backing winners or core lines
  • There is a wide range of different types of products, from Home to Electricals to Fashion. We adjusted the programme for each audience by weighting the training according to the issues each faced – for example option control and reduction for Fashion, stock control and promotions for Home
  • The teams are being continually upskilled to play a greater role in ongoing selection and development, meaning that the training pays back in the short term and as part of continuous improvement
  • The ongoing programme is now delivered by their internal subject matter experts, and we continue to provide support as new training requirements evolve