Being a Fashion Buyer in NYC

Behind the Curtain:  What it is like to be a buyer at market.


I am on my way home from a buying trip to the New York Home, Gift and Accessories Market.  As someone who has done most of my buying from my computer, I am new enough at the whole thing to wonder if you guys might be interested in what it is like to be a buyer.  It sounds glamorous, is quite exhausting in reality, but all in all is one of the perks of having a shoppe.  (If you didn’t see it that way, you would likely be in the wrong profession.)


Day 1:  I decided to take the red eye, mainly, because I was being cheap.   Three full days in NYC with only two nights hotel… Yes, please!  I have travelled internationally a lot and survived some brutal flights there, but have never experienced the West Coat to East Coast red eye.  So at 9:30 PM ish, things started to get interesting.


They were threatening to force 20 of us to check our carry on bags, because the plane was completely full and they were going to run out of overhead room.  (Weird how that happens when you require people to pay for checked bags and therefore force them to schlep all of their crap onto the plane, thus taking longer to board and turning everyone into savages.)  Anywho.  People were starting to really crowd the door, because they were nervous about getting aboard with their undies they had so neatly stuffed in their carry on.


In walks a woman.  I thought she was quite striking.  Attractive.  Late 30s.  Reasonably well dressed.  But something was off.  I could tell from the moment she walked up to the middle of the line.  Her speech was wobbly.  She didn’t quite have solid footing.  Oh, dear.  She was real, real high.  But she looked like she might just get on the plane and take a nighty night, so I didn’t think much of it.


Nighty night, she did not take.  She proceeded to cat call a number of the gentleman around her (Read:  Hey daddy.   Oooh, daddy.) and touch them with her hands and other parts of her body.  She stood up during take off to chirp some things that didn’t make sense.  She was asked by the flight attendants numerous times to respect other people’s personal space.  And then, another lesson from kindergarten became relevant.  The grown up version anyway.  One should avoid going up into first class (we were mid-way back with the cattle) and then proceeding to pee on oneself.  Yep.  It was out of my line of site, but the flight attendants spent some serious elbow grease cleaning things up after that.


By this point, I tried to catch a little shut eye.  Ha!  Wishful thinking.  Upon landing, I was surprised, but not really to hear the captain tell us to remain seated.  Two police officers boarded the plane and escorted the woman off.


 I love good public transportation and I was really trying to be frugal on this trip, so I hopped on the subway to head into town.


I know I have made it sound so glamorous, you are jealous already.  Unfortunately, Miss Thang’s escapades delayed our deplaning for half an hour or so and I missed my morning class.  Oh well, at least I got a taste of what it was like to be in the movie Bridesmaids.  Instead, I was there when the doors opened for my first taste of NYC market. 


If there is one thing you learn from this blog, I would want it to be that buying for a store is about 75% science and 25% art.  I am not saying your point of view and sense of style aren’t important.  They are, but I am convinced you could have a successful store if you were good at research and a disciplined buyer, and you are sure to go under if you can’t create a process for your buying. 


There are bigger shows than NYC, but by most people’s accounts, there’s a lot to see.  The show takes up four floors of one of the biggest convention centers in the world.  It is a science, remember, so, make a plan!


I decided to start on the top floor, which was the smallest.  It also happened to be the international, fair-trade section, which I have a heart for.  (Luckily, so do my fabulous customers!)  I don’t always practice this rule, but most all of the time, I think it is best to get a lay of the land before deciding what to purchase.  It is kind of like going to a restaurant and the server saying, “Tonight, we have a lovely chicken marsala dish,” and you saying, “Oh, that sounds delicious!  I will have that!”  Next he proceeds, “Additionally, we have a pork in cream sauce.”  And you say, “Oh yes!  I must have that too!”  Lastly, he notes, “We do also have a peppered beef that is quite tasty.”  By this point you are too full and have spent too much money on dinner to consider another course.  The same can be said for buying.  If you make all of your selections before you have seen everything, there might have been a better version of what you wanted further along your route.  Or better pricing.  I am too impassioned to follow this all of the time, but I really do try to reserve my buying for a second go around unless I am 100% sure my customer will love it, it is the right price, and it fills a need in my store. 


At about 1:00 PM, I started to hallucinate.  Okay, not really, but the red eye had revisited me, and I felt that an hour lay down might allow me to actually get some work done that afternoon.  I was fortunate the hotel was able to let me check in a little early and I took a power nap, before I hit it hard again. 


There was a new line of “I promise” bracelets I thought my customers would like, but they were significantly more expensive than other similar things in my store, so I wasn’t sure if I should pull the trigger.  I decided it would be fun to enlist the help of my Facebook friends and see if they thought the bracelets would be a good fit for the store.  Over 100 likes later, the bracelets are on their way.  This was a bit of an experiment, so we will see how they sell.  If they do, I may try this with other products I am on the fence about.  It was great to get our customers involved.


I stayed until the market closed at 6:00 PM and then walked back to my hotel.  I am too much of a foodie not to take advantage of the amazing food options in NYC, no matter how tired I was, so I saddled up at a Totto Ramen, a classic ramen counter, which is the perfect spot, when you are dining solo.  Spicy miso ramen with extra kikurage mushrooms.  (I am now obsessed with these particular mushrooms.)  An Asahi to wash it down.  Bliss.  With my belly now full, I headed back to my hotel, snagged a drink at the bar on my up to my room, and spread out all of the literature I had collected on the bed.


This step has proven really valuable to me.  Take good notes on the line sheet (That’s like a menu with pricing for all of the wholesale items.) and then come back afterwards and think about everything.  I made a pile of nos, a pile of yeses, and a pile of maybes.  It made it so much easier for me to determine where I needed to go back to and where I could skip.


My hotel had some HVAC issues, so I was up and down throughout the night, but it was a lot more sleep than I had the previous night.  Bright and early, I was ready for a cappuccino and back at it the next day.  I opted for one of those cool “egg sandwich on the street” things that are sooo NYC.  My tips are:  ask for sauce and BYO salt.  Overall, quite delicious.


Sometimes you find a designer you like so much you throw caution to the wind and say, “I love it, I am sure my customers with vicariously love it too.  Won’t they?  Pretty please.”  This is the danger zone.  This is why I don’t work for Nordstrom and why I own my own store. If I worked for Nordstrom they would say, “No, you can not buy that!  It is too risky.  We need to purchase what we know will sell.”  Bah humbug.  No risk, no reward.  The best part about being a business owner is getting to call the shots.  Reasoning be damned, I want the grasshopper cocktail ring and sly fox cuff.


Enter Miss Ellie.  Oh Miss Ellie.  The sweetest pea.  In her petticoat.  And rhinestones.  And slight southern drawl.  In a sea of bar earrings and minimalist necklaces, there was the over-the-top fab of Miss Ellie.  Her pieces are whimsical, animal centric, sparkly, Victorian, and just down right joy inducing.  Will they sell?  Hope so.  Buying is a science you say?  Well, if you can’t be swept away by the whimsy of design, what’s the point anyway.  I hope you like Miss Ellie’s pieces.  And if you don’t purchase them, I will just have my own personal collection of joie de vivre, encrusted with rhinestones.


Day 2 was the heavy lifting.  I methodically covered the bulk of the 2 main floors this day.  The other lesson I want you to remember about buying is that you can not spend too much time being distracted by things you can’t or aren’t going to sell.  I have a terrible problem with this when it comes to home décor.  And this was a home décor show.  Oh shoot, why am I writing a blog about buying.  Clearly, I am not following any of my own rules.  Sigh.  Well, how dull would that be if I followed all of my own advice. 


Let me just say, Australian metallic and cotton throw pillows, swoon worthy chandeliers, and every accent piece I have ever wanted, all in one place.  But focus, damn it!  You are a gift and jewelry buyer.  Squirrel!


Staying sharp when you get into sections of things you aren’t interested in is important too.  At the last market I went to my favorite booth was tucked into a section called “Northwest Passages” (Read: What old people buy on Alaskan cruises.)  I wasn’t even going to go into that section and it ended up being my favorite stuff.  So, spend the time, walk the floor, and stay attentive, because you never know what might be waiting for you.


I finished again, closer to 5:30 PM, but this was largely because I had skipped lunch and opted for a protein bar to save time, and I was about ready to eat my face.  I was headed to Hamilton that night, a play I had been following since its inception and dying to see.  (Trust me, I am not hip to plays, or Broadway, or NYC.  It was by some stroke of luck I even heard about the play and have since been watching its ascent to fame.)  Based on the glowing recommendation of a close friend, I plopped down the astronomical price of a scalped ticket and held my breath.


Luckily, there was a not-so-touristy, family owned Italian place nearby called Trattoria Trecolori.  I hoped I would be lucky enough to secure a seat at the bar (again, travelling alone does have some perks.) and lucky me, I squeezed in between a trio of business dudes and a diamond broker who couldn't stop complimenting my Uno de 50 Swarovski cocktail ring.  Score a point for the costume jewelry! Amazing bread, Caesar salad, tortellini with peas, prosciutto and cream sauce, a martini, a glass of Barolo, and a torfuto.  (I skipped lunch.  Don’t judge!)


In perfect time, the moment had come for me to see Hamilton.  For those who have not heard of Hamilton, it is a play about Alexander Hamilton, with rap music.  Yes.  Those two things together.  For real.  I would need to write an additional blog to discuss my feelings on the play, but I will limit it to this:  Hamilton is a masterpiece.  It was extremely well written, educational, had really well constructed and entertaining music, and was deeply moving.  I would have flown out just to see it.  It was truly amazing.  A.  Mazing.  Life changing.  Okay, really though.  Go see it.  On Broadway.  


Last day already!  That’s why they call it a power trip.  I did a good job the night before of really editing down what I had left.  I swore off handbags a long time ago, but I decided to pick up a Pendelton-esque brand made in Oaxaca Mexico.  Buy them, damn it, so I won’t regret my decision.  I also picked up a few other practical things.  I debated another lap around the entire show, but to be honest, I was just pooped.  Some of it is being physically pooped. Honestly, you probably walk a couple of marathons over the course of the show.  My feet hurt.  My back hurt.  Oh wait, I am not 90.  I better start working out more or something.  The other part of it is that you are financially pooped.  You have just spent the last few days spending tens of thousands of dollars on things you are praying to sweet baby Jesus will sell.  I am not sure if this is how other people feel, but I always feel a little bit emotionally vulnerable.  Like I just laid it all on the line, and now I have to wait to see if it pays off.  So instead of taking another lap, I went and ate lunch.  Okay, yes.  It may have been more ramen.  Again, there is nothing better when travelling alone than a ramen bar.  (I did try a second place, Terakawa Ramen.  It was very good, but I think the first one wins.)  And then I found a place for a mani/pedi.  Sigh. 


It was unseasonably warm in NYC and it was pouring rain as I schlepped my suitcase across the streets to the subway, where I maintained my resolve not to cab to the airport, so as to cut costs on the trip.  I have a tendency to walk too fast when I am travelling and then end up sweating balls.  So, imagine mildly damp hair from the rain, sweating through my shirt, and schlepping my luggage around the subway stations like someone who has no idea where they are going.  (You know the one.  They go up and down the same stairwell multiple times.)  Since I was flying out of Newark (God bless New Jersey), there were no direct trains, but I eventually figured out where I was going while only offending a few people by my BO.  


Once at the airport, I enjoyed the most expensive, least good meal of my trip.  Thank you chain restuarants!  I should have grabbed something in the city to go.  But then I would have smelled even worse when I arrived.  I think the pedi was a good idea, as my feet aren’t feeling quite as defeated as they were yesterday.  I can’t wait to get back to the store.  It is always like Christmas waiting for new things to arrive. 


If you are wondering why I didn’t talk much about scheduling your order shipments so they are evenly staggered throughout the year.  Or budgeting for different categories within the shoppe.  That’s because I suck at it.  I get too excited and want all of my customers to see all of the good stuff.  Well, patience is a virtue.  I am sure I will get better.  I only occasionally buy things covered in pom poms and tassels I know won’t sell.  I only occasionally buy retro melamine jewelry, literally nobody buys aside from me.  I guess my last lesson is, keep learning, but keep having fun.  Because if it isn’t fun, what’s the point.