A Buyer’s Life: Inside One of Fashion’s Most Coveted Jobs

By: Fatima Reyna

Cindy Pierce has a job that many SMU fashionistas envy: she gets to shop for some of the world’s most luxurious brands. As a shoes and accessories buyer for the high-end Dallas retailer, Stanley Korshak, she is surrounded by brands like Valentino, Jimmy Choo, and Oscar de la Renta.

Pierce was a part of the StyleCon Business of Fashion panel at SMU in October. She shared her insight about the industry and gave students advice about sarting their careers in fashion. She was joined by other entrepeurers and fashion influencers at the event.

Ethan Lascity, the director of SMU’S Fashion Media program, helped bring StyleCon to campus. He said that all of the panelists offered great insight for the students, but he said Pierce offered an important viewpoint.

“I think the idea of her being a businesswoman and working with an existing business like Stanley Korshak is an important perspective for students to have,” said Lacscity, who teaches fashion business, history and reporting courses. “More than likey we’re not all going to start our own business , but being a buyer could be a career trajectory for us.”

About 100 students were in attendance at the panel, all of them eager to learn more about the fashion industry, many looking for career inspiration.

“I thought she was one of the most professional women up there,” said Isabel Arcellana, a junior studying Fashion Media. “She seemed like she just genuinely loved that kind of work.”

A Day in the Life of a Luxury Fashion Buyer

Pierce is no stranger to a fast-paced, heavy workload. She might be booked with meetings, phone calls or travel on any given day. As a buyer, she hand picks the shoes, handbags and accessories sold on the first floor of Stanley Korshak at The Crescent in uptown Dallas.

Stanley Korshak at the Crescent. Photo credit: Stanley Korshak

Pop music echoed through the department store one day recently as Pierce geared up for another busy day. Some days she starts by having a sales meeting with the associates working her department. They go though the products and what is selling and what is not.

Pierce describes herself as the boutique manager of her department so she is always checking in with the people who work with her. Every morning she walks though the floor and makes sure everything is in place and new products are out.

Pierce’s office door faces the store’s Valentino section, with walls of shoes and handbags on either side. Pierce checks the sales from the day before. She compares them to last year’s sales and compares it to the sales goals for the current year.

Most days consist of checking sales numbers and emails. Pierce has to constantly stay on top of purchase orders, negotiate with brands, and continuously build relationships.

Valentino section outside Pierce’s Office. Photo credit: Fatima Reyna

“People know me for being able to solidify relationships with brands that are difficult to get,” said Pierce.

It’s important for buyers to have salesmanship skills, Pierce said. She has a selling background and is constantly selling the store, customers and the brands.

“It’s all about being able to sell what you have to offer,” said Pierce.

Pierce is also constantly on the search for new products to buy for her department. That includes the more glamorous side to her job: traveling to fashion capitals like New York, Milan and Paris, which Pierce does twice a year. Stanley Korshak is a well known retailer in the fashion world and Pierce said her goal is to make sure she always has the best products in the store.

Becoming a Buyer

Fashion is a $1.75 trillion dollar industry and employs 1.8 billion people across the United States according to the Joint Economic Committee’s 2015 report, The Economic Impact of the Fashion Industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, apparel retail buyers make an avergage of $79,180 annually.

Pierce, didn’t have a conventional start in the fashion industry. After graduating with an MBA from the Univeristy of Rochester, she started working at IBM as a marketing representative. She soon realized she wasn’t passionate about it. When she quit, people thought she was crazy.

Pierce soon took a job in retail behind a cosmetics counter at a department store in Austin, but landing that initial job wasn’t easy; she had to prove that she really wanted the job.

“Pay me the minimum wage and I’ll move up, I’m not worried about it,” Pierce said she told the cosmetics manager.

Shoes, Handbags and Accessories floor at Stanley Korshak. Photo credit: Fatima Reyna

She landed the job at $5.50 minimum wage plus commission, but soon moved up to department manager. In the years to come, Pierce was recruited by Neiman Marcus, Lancôme, and Dior. Pierce said she believes being relentless in the fashion industry will get you to where you want to be.

The Stanley Korshak buyer position landed in her lap in 2014 and she hasn’t looked back.

What Successful Buyers Know

Watching a buyer like Pierce in action is inspiring. She has been in the business for a long time and she just knows what works and what doesn’t. Here are her top three tips for a successful career as a fashion industry buyer:

1. Know your clients. Choosing products isn’t only about finding trendy pieces. Pierce said buyers have to know their customers and what they want. On buying trips, they must make decisions based on what their customers will want.

“I go buying in mind for our customers,” said Pierce. “When I’m out there buying shoes I think ‘oh, so and so would like this!’ and I make sure to get one pair in her size.”

2. Keep an eye on the bottom line. One of the challenges as a buyer is budgeting and staying in budget. Pierce said it’s a numbers game. Her job is very numbers driven, but she said that her position at Stanley Korshak is a little more creative and less numbers-oriented than the buying postions at other companies.

3. Work hard. Buyers must have a prodigious work ethic and they must be able to ask for what they want in order to move up the career ladder. Pierce said she believes being relentless in this business will get you to where you want to be.

“You just have to keep asking and going after things,” said Pierce. “ You’re going to get a lot of no’s but then you are going to get some really good yes’s.”

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