Rachael Nagel: Reporting Back

Artistic and Creative Endeavor: Merchandising Career and Chicago

1. My STEP project was unique in the fact that it had both a trip component and a research component. My project entailed visiting the city of Chicago. During my visit to the city I not only experienced the atmosphere and tourist activities, I also did research on what companies look for in their merchandise buyers and how to become successful in my desired career field.

2. When I first started to plan this trip, I was both nervous and excited. I had no clue what it was like to travel to and stay in such a large city and had barely any knowledge of my desired career field besides what I had researched through the internet. I had been interested in pursuing a major in marketing and a minor in fashion and retail studies, but I had no clue how to take those academic components and transform them into a career as a merchandise buyer. Also, to be a merchandise buyer, and even be successful in marketing, it is almost an unspoken fact that you have to live in a big city, such as Chicago, New York City, or San Francisco. Since I had never been to such large cities, I had no idea what to expect.

Traveling to Chicago by myself was a huge leap of faith to take. This trip and research that I did ultimately decided for me whether or not I would stay in my major and minor programs. Through this, I learned necessary daily skills and activities that buyers must do in order to achieve their careers and also to stay successful in them once they get the job. I also learned more about city life, such as visiting Buckingham Fountain, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and attending a horse race near the city. I learned that my expectations of my future career and potential living locations were quite spot on, but seeing these things and hearing about them first hand made me believe that although my goals will be hard to reach, they are achievable with hard work and dedication. Through this experience I learned that I truly have chosen the right career path and academic components in order to help me get there. I also learned that although the city can be overwhelming at first, it really is a place I could see myself living directly after college and immediately enjoying.

3. During my trip to Chicago, I was very lucky in the sense that I was able to experience many different aspects of the city and visit various large retailers and speak with some people in my desired profession. The first thing that lead to my personal transformation was visiting the city itself. While I was in Chicago, I visited many of the typical tourist attractions, but I also got to experience daily city life for myself. For example: my first day in Chicago, I look a train into the city to avoid heavy morning traffic. Upon getting to the city, I took a cab to my first desired location, an outdoor vendor market. I spent time at the local market, then took another cab to get to “The Magnificent Mile,” the stretch of North Michigan Avenue with all of the prominent retailers in the city. While at “The Magnificent Mile” I was able to go to several different retailers and discuss being a buyer with the management staff, which I will discuss later. After “The Magnificent Mile” I walked to lunch at a Chicago favorite, Geno’s Pizza. After this, I took another cab to visit the attraction known as The Bean. At the end of the day, I look another train back to the hotel. My first day in Chicago was busy, but gave me the first glimpse of what life is like in the city. It was eye-opening how large Chicago is, to the point where you have to take cabs and trains which I had never done before. This experience began my transformation of experiencing what my future living situation and daily life and commute might be like.

The second aspect that lead to my transformation was talking to various retailers about the various aspects that go along with being a merchandise buyer. I learned that to be a successful merchandise buyer, you must pay close attention to fashion trends in order to know what type of product to purchase for your desired target customers. Also, you must consider what the customer needs and how you can make that work with your suppliers’ products and prices. You can either be in charge of one specific category of merchandise, or you can be in charge of purchasing for the entire store depending on the size of the corporation you work for. In addition to buying the merchandise, a buyer is also responsible to come up with displays for this merchandise. In addition, I learned that prior retail experience is imperative to going into the field of merchandise buying.

To further my discussion with retailers in Chicago, I asked them to tell me a little bit about the characteristics they look for in their buyers. Although the responses varied, it was a general consensus that there a few main things that companies look for when hiring buyers. Among these qualities are a passion for clothing, organization, decisiveness, strong communication and negotiation skills, creativity, analytical skills, and have knowledge about colors, patterns, materials, and other things regarding garment construction. In addition, when corporations are looking for buyers, they look for a college degree in art, fashion, or business, especially marketing. Although I previously believed that being a buyer was a simple task, from talking to these retailers I realized just how many attributes you must personally possess in order to be successful. I also realized that if I want a career as a merchandise buyer, there are some skills that I should begin to improve upon now, like my organization and communication skills. Although I believe I possess the necessary skills to be a successful buyer, there is always room for improvement and I am glad these retailers were able to discuss these areas with me. I was also exceptionally glad when I found out that my marketing major is a typical major that most buyers have taken on, since I was originally not sure if my major would help me or hurt me in this field.

4. The personal development I achieved through completing my STEP experience will be beneficial to my future without a doubt. Taking this trip to Chicago enabled me to step out of my comfort zone and see what my future will likely be like, both in terms of living style and career path. I was able to learn exactly what a buyer is, what their daily responsibilities are, what the different types of companies look for in their buyers, and how to get my foot in the door for one of these careers. With my newfound background knowledge of merchandising buying, I will have an added advantage as I continue in my education and look for a career in the future.


Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *