Over thirty years ago when I started out in retail working as a custom’s entry clerk in Switzer’s (now Brown Thomas in Dublin) the above quote would have meant nothing to me.
Some of you reading this(if any) would be asking what was a customs entry clerk?
Well back in the days before the EEC and free trade all goods coming into the country were stopped by customs at the port of arrival and before being given to the owner a customs declaration form had to be completed and duty if any had to be paid . Switzer’s had a large import and export office. Seven staff Mr Burns his secretary and five clerks.
After a year of learning the true test came when you were given an entry to be made for the haberdashery department. Barbra O Farrell the buyer bought from a company called Ronald Kaufmann and it would be everything from needles to a haystack , all would require a different tariff code so the entry would run to several pages and at least fifty to sixty tariff codes.
Little did I realise that four years later when I started out as a management trainee that my first department would be the haberdashery.
Barbara the buyer was american born and learnt the art of retailing (anyone can open a shop but the art is keeping it open) in the states so she had a great knowledge and was an excellent teacher.
A day or two after I started she gave me a copy of The Buyer’s Manual a book she had been given when she started out in retail.
One of the chapters in that book had the headline “Today’s peacock is tomorrow’s feather duster” and it has stuck with me since.
I asked barbara she found the peacocks and she gave me this advise.
Buying is all about observation look around you, see what people are wearing , what are they reading, what are their pastimes and that day we went to Trinity college for lunch which was on our doorstep,and we sat on the verge of the cricket field which is still their. Barbara explained to me that she was their to observe what the students were wearing, what satchels they were carrying. They had just come back from their working holidays and they were wearing the latest fashions and colours from New York, India,Africa or wherever they had been. This would then become her palate for the next season.
Today we can use the internet but sometimes we need to look at what is on the doorstep.
Barabra also sold the peacocks that had become dusters.
What was your fist job and mentor?