A merchant and his boss in a garment export company having a conversation, which goes something, like this. (M – Merchant and B – Boss)

M – Sir, I have been chasing the buying office for last one week for fit comments. They delayed in sending the comments and now we cannot meet the PCD. When I asked them for extension on delivery they refused point blank.

B – I was told by the buying office people that we have delayed in sending the fits and have had multiple rejections, and finally they had to approve the third fit under duress.

M – Sir, it’s true that our third fit got approved. They kept making spec changes every time, even though we incorporated all comments.

B – Please tell me complete facts. I was again informed that we did not follow the buyer block on fits and hence the rejection.

M – Sir, we did follow the pattern. There was some confusion while sending the pattern, which lead to some misunderstandings. You can check with our sample technician. They had passed on the old pattern by mistake to the merchandising team. Sir we corrected our mistake immediately, but by the time we sent the correct pattern to the buying office, they had already forwarded the wrong pattern to the buyers.

This could go on and on…but without any positive results.

If you happen to be a merchandiser by profession, you have to know that the buck stops with you, whatever the circumstance or situation may be. If you have not accepted this fact till now, you are not and cannot become a smart merchandiser.

A merchandiser has to know that every order that they handle is like their baby. If the ‘ayah’ (maid/caretaker) did not feed the baby properly, can the mother afford to blame on the ayah and feel happy? Even if she did blame the ayah, it’s HER baby who went without a proper meal. What’s the recourse for this mother? She just has to take complete responsibility even for the actions of the ayah and just has to make sure that the ayah feeds the baby properly in her absence. It’s her baby after all.

A similar approach or paradigm need to be embraced by all you merchandiser community. You are the one thread that connects the entire gamut of activities from beginning to the end of any style purchase order. You have to elevate your role from being mere post box passing information and reporting facts and figures from one end to the other, to that of becoming a sole proprietor of your PO. A project manager who leads the show to ensure successful completion of a project within the given time frame, within the limited resources available, and within the budgeted money assigned to a project.

Each PO is like a project. Since every merchant handles typically 30-40 styles / Pos each season, you have to become Project Managers to the power of 30-40 to manage things effectively in a complex multi style environment.

I am sure all you merchandisers community will feel much more proud of your jobs now than ever before. You have elevated your position to that of a very sophisticated Project Manager, handling the complexity of multiple styles, with diverse needs and requirements, negotiating and communicating across different departments to get your PO move on track.

One of the key tricks that smart Project Managers know is the power of people skills. Again I am reminded of my father’s early childhood lesson passed on to me – clever is one who gets his job done. You have to develop the skills to make people ‘want’ to do the things that you want them to do. Whether it is massaging the ego of ‘masterji’, to promising a free ticket to the latest hindi film to the office boy, you just do what it takes… to get people working on your side.

You most certainly don’t get into the blame game, which is a complete waste of effort and energy. You are smart enough to know that you might as well spend that effort and energy in cultivating relationships with the people your work with day in and day out.

Another trick to remember is that when you point one finger at the other party, there are three fingers pointing within towards you. So you better make sure that you have first fixed and taken care of the three enemies pointing towards you and you will surely be able to eliminate the one enemy on the outside easy enough.

One might be tempted to argue and say, why all the blame should fall on the merchandiser’s shoulders alone. Other departments should equally shoulder their responsibility as well, if it is teamwork. There is definitely some merit in this reasoning. However, a smart merchant knows to look for the origin of mistakes and errors, not with the objective of crucifying the wrong doer. Nobody likes to be crucified, and that’s when people put up their defences and start covering up for their mistakes. A smart Project Manager approaches the issue of finding the origin of mistake from a perspective of finding the root cause that led to that mistake with the resolve to ensure that such an error never occurs again. You will then work in preparing a game plan or a strategy or a process which will eliminate the occurrence of that particular unique error for ever.

With this approach, you will find people opening up more easily. You will have more friends and more insiders on your side. You will have lesser walls to bang your heads against.

I want to end with a very nice quote borrowed from Thomas Carlyle. When a young man asked Carlyle how he should go about reforming the world. Carlyle answered, “Reform Yourself. That way there will be one less rascal in the world.”

About the Author –

Anjuli Gopalakrishna has spent more than a decade in the apparel industry, having worked with leading companies including J C Penney Purchasing Corporation, Tommy Hilfiger India Limited and Li & Fung. Her experience includes apparel marketing and merchandising, sourcing of home products, apparel, accessories and leather goods. She has extensive experience sourcing for US and Europe from sourcing destinations including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Madagascar, Pakistan, Taiwan and China. She is a Post Graduate in Fashion Management Studies from the National Institute of Fashion Technology Delhi (NIFT). She is now an independent consultant and trainer in supply chain merchandising to buying offices and garment exporters and also a guest lecturer at NIFT Bangalore.

Contact: anjulig@hotmail.com. Tel – 91-9972596207