Being a professional buyer is a glamorous, powerful job in many respects. But the glitter and glitz cloud the hard work and keen intellect required to make it in this competitive field. Professional buyers examine goods and work within reasonable budgets to make competitive bids for products to resell. Don’t underestimate the amount and the scale of negotiations necessary. “People eat you alive if they think they can get away with it,” wrote one buyer. Those comfortable with negotiating reported a higher-than-average satisfaction with their job. The decisions a buyer makes-color, size, quantity and price-are some of the most important in determining whether a company makes a profit in a given year. The power to influence sales, beat competition, and earn high profits through your own action gives many buyers satisfaction in a high-pressure position. The bottom line in this job is “how am I selling and what is my margin.” “It’s the closest thing to gambling, including picking stocks. You don’t really have a lot of research-you have to go with your taste and your gut feeling,” mentioned one long-term buyer, “It’s addictive.” Some buyers said that it is important to stick with what you know and not think about commercial profitability, because “you’re just as likely to pick a winner or a dog either way. Consumer taste is fickle.” Buyers must have confidence in their choices, and be able to assert their preferences and defend their selections.
Buyers work long and sometimes unusual hours, traveling to fashion shows, industry conferences, seminars, and trade shows. They investigate producers’ lines, then place orders, usually with a limited amount of discussion. Professional buyers work with retail sales people to get feedback on how choices they have made responded to the market. This back-and-forth dialogue is important to a buyer’s understanding of any problems the sales force has moving the product. A significant number of respondents mentioned the support the other members of the field provided. While many times buyers will come into conflict over purchases and sales, the profession is so grueling that many find themselves sympathetic with one another in spite of that conflict.
Almost any major can prepare you to become a buyer; it depends on what you want to buy. A book buyer might have been an English major; someone who buys hospital supplies might have majored in biology. Any college major with a business or managerial skills background will prepare you for the career. All employers require new employees to learn the specifics of their own business. Large companies usually have internal buyer training programs lasting from one to five years that expose the new employee to all aspects of the business. Many trainees begin as salespeople and learn about inventory policy, stock maintenance, and shipment checking. Aspiring buyers receive extensive training on proprietary computer and inventory tracking systems. The abilities to plan ahead, predict consumer habits and make difficult decisions mark those who emerge successfully from training programs. Those who continue in the profession find it helpful to achieve the professional designations recognized in each state, such as Certified Purchasing Manager (CMP) and Certified Purchasing Professional (CPE). To become an official purchasing agent for the government, applicants must pass a two- or three-part exam to attain federal certification.
Professional buyers are usually in touch with a taste or a sensibility in a given field, and many use their knowledge in other careers. Some become fashion consultants for celebrities, others become internal managers for production firms, a third group moves into retail and opens their own stores. A significant number enter advertising, where their guesses as to consumer preference and experience working with salespeople prove invaluable.