Where have all the Assistant Merchandisers gone?

It’s widely agreed within the fashion industry that Assistant Merchandiser position can be the hardest to recruit for - which from an outside perspective can often seem baffling. One would assume that given the amount of people interested in a career in fashion and with the role being at the slightly more junior end of the market that people would be queuing up to apply for Assistant Merchandiser jobs?
Yet over the last few months any Head of Merchandising or HR expert I’ve spoken to has said that these are the roles they struggle to recruit most, even for companies with popular brands and competitive salaries.
There is real competition in the market to attract the best talent at Assistant Merchandiser level and companies face the challenges of inflated salary expectations, lack of quality available candidates and the ongoing risk of counter offers.
The difficulty really begins with the lack of people entering a merchandising career. Not many non-fashion graduates are aware of its existence as a career path and those who do fashion or B&M degrees will often consider a move into Buying the more glamourous choice at first glance.
We also tend to find that once at Assistant Merchandiser level, individuals can become acutely aware of how a move could impact their chances for promotion.  As there are so few Junior Merchandiser positions in the market, candidates can often feel that staying in their current company offers the best chance of progression.
So, unless you’re offering an Assistant Merchandiser their dream brand, a big increase in salary or a step up in title they tend to stick with the lower risk option of staying put.
Unfortunately, the impact is cyclical as companies are aware of how hard quality Assistant Merchandisers can be to replace. Meaning even once you’ve successfully filled your AM vacancy there remains the huge risk of counter offer and buy back.
Where have all the Assistant Merchandisers gone?

What is being done?  

Many companies are already focused on making sure that there is enough good talent entering merchandising careers at allocator or MAA level. The methods of initial engagement are being stepped up with an increased focus on making store staff aware of head office opportunities, and targeting graduates with a variety of degrees such as maths and science not just fashion or accountancy.
Yet we still face the challenge of the hesitancy felt amongst the current Assistant Merchandising candidates to make a move.

So, what can we do to help attract and retain the best Assistant Merchandisers?  

As an agency we now offer our clients a chance to partner with us exclusively and embark on talent pooling processes – introducing top tier Assistant Merchandisers to them even if there isn’t a role going – particularly as companies are aware that at any moment a new AM vacancy could appear in their team!
After this introduction it is then crucial for companies to be able to differentiate themselves in the market. A recent study by the New Talent Times into Generation Y has shown that it’s not just salary and progression that entry level professionals are looking for but also lifestyle and working environment. 
Companies that value a work/life balance, giving back to the community and creating a dynamic working environment have the edge. It’s no wonder that White Stuff won best company to work for in last year’s Drapers Awards with their offering of working flexibility, a very strong CSR programme and a brand people are proud to represent.
Companies can choose to stand out in the market. Yes, offer Assistant Merchandisers good salaries and progression, but also remember they’re looking to incorporate their career with their lifestyle (not the other way around) so offer early Friday finishes, team outings and charity days. Also make sure to choose the right recruitment partner to represent these values to applicants as first impressions are crucial in a world where decisions are made at the click of a button.
For a confidential discussion about recruitment in this vertical contact Eleanor Harlow, Senior Consultant at Michael Page Fashion.
Eleanor Harlow
T: +44 20 7269 2480