This was another very exciting episode of our “Careers in Beauty” series where we discovered the field of buying in beauty with Ashleigh Deline, a Beauty Buyer at Ulta. We talked about what a career in buying looks like, what she did to get into it, and what her day-to-day looks like!
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
I’m Ashleigh Deline, and I am located in Toronto, Canada. I work for Ulta as a Beauty Buyer.
I had a different path from most when it came to beauty. I studied Criminology and wanted to be a parole officer. Out of graduation, I worked as a security officer for the Government of Canada, but I hated it. I decided to move away from Ottawa and go to larger cities with more opportunities, and I accepted the first offer I got in Toronto, which was an administrative position for a plastic surgeon.
All throughout high school, I worked in retail and so I was familiar with store-front retail, but no idea what corporate retail was like. Working for the plastic surgeon, I ended up getting contacts for a large company that had just acquired a pharmacy chain in Canada. That’s how I ended up in the corporate side of retail; working on the administration side.
Sometime later, Target decided to open locations in Canada and I applied to their many open positions. I happened to get a job in cosmetics! I was a Merchandise Specialist, which is essentially an Assistant Buyer.
What are some things you learned at Target?
This was my first exposure of corporate retail within the beauty industry. I learned how fast-paced it is, and how it’s driven by innovation. You need to be flexible, but also firm. When it really comes to retail buying, I would separate it into 3 main pillars:
- Establishing and maintaining relationships with your brands
- Looking for white space in your category and filling it up with new brands
- Analyze the data you have in your category and learn what levers you can pull to grow your category, while still maintaining profitability
Target had a very exceptional ending in Canada, talk me through it and what did you do next?
Target pulled out of Canada in January 2016, and I found out roughly at the same time as the general public. So essentially, there were over 10,000 people who were suddenly out of a job, and it took me 5 months to find my next job. I was very panicked, but I eventually got my job as a Beauty Buyer at well.ca, which was small, strictly e-commerce retailer in Canada. Because it was small, I was really given a chance to learn and grow, so I will always be grateful for this opportunity because it is not always easy to move from an Assistant Buyer to a Buyer. You want to look for a company that does promote from within at that level. If you don’t see that, the likelihood of you being promoted is not big, even if you are really good.
What does a week in buying look like?
Your week starts with analyzing the data. You are pulling sales from the previous week, and analyzing what your category did. You need to present this data to the higher-ups in the merchandising division. You need to analyze what worked and didn’t work, and understand the why, and then share all that information with them. This can take a full day. You’re also in constant communication with your brands to make sure you are all on the same page and that everyone is sticking to their timelines.
On top of that, you are receiving knowledge about the products and sales coming from these brands, because like I said, there is constant innovation happening in these industries. You get to nourish the brand-partner relationship here.
Consumers love buying on sale, we want to make sure we are getting a deal, because if we are, we tend to buy more. So as a buyer, you are always planning promotions, and you’re in discussion with other brands about all these promos. This is why you need to maintain and nourish relations with your brands, because you both need each other.
How often do you add or drop brands in a quarter?
It really depends on the brand. When it comes to makeup, you bring in brands about 2 to 4 times a year. When it comes to smaller categories like bath or sun, it’s typically once a year.
As a buyer, you have to negotiate an exit strategy before you take on a brand. It’s all negotiated up front prior to the brand’s launch with the retailer. There’s a lot at risk on both ends in the event that the inventory doesn’t sell through as planned.
What skills do you need to be a successful beauty buyer?
Be fair, but be firm with your brands. Your brands need you just like you need them, so make sure you nourish your relationship with them.
Be flexible, especially in the beauty industry, since things are changing constantly. There are over 400 brands, thousands and thousands of products, but it cannot let you stress out.
Walk me through some more technical skills you need for the role.
Be a good negotiator! This takes a lot of time to learn well, so make sure you get your practice doing that.
Microsoft Excel; you will be using it for a huge part of your day. Buyers have not moved on to the fancier tools like SQL, it’s still mostly Excel so you need to know it.
What do you love the most about your job?
Definitely beauty. I love beauty and trying the products, testing them, and being able to understand them. I don’t know if I could be a buyer for soda, or paper, so really beauty is what drives me to continue this.
I also love the opportunity I have to meet people. You are conversing with so many different people from around the world. You get exposed to so much talent, and if you like that, you will always have the opportunity to learn from someone.
It is super important as a brand to be proactive to get connections with retailers. You need to network with someone who works for that retailer. You need to be persistent, and that doesn’t make you annoying, us buyers are used to that. You need to be able to do that confidently. Buyers are very busy, but we eventually listen to those who are persistent.
As a beauty buyer, if there is a brand I am interested in, I will definitely go and reach out to them even before they do. I also make sure to go to trade shows and network with people I know that would help me.
What advice would you give to someone who really wants to be a beauty buyer?
I would say not to go into buying just for beauty. Understand the fundamentals of buying as a whole and hopefully you will end up in beauty. I want to hire someone who wants to learn the fundamentals of buying and wants to grow. If you have any sort of operations experience or retail experience, that is a really good way to get into the industry. You can start small and work your way up that way. Your pay will obviously increase if you do that way too! And be persistent! We want to see the grit in your personality.