The Calculator Chronicles

How my job has shaped my life.

Maths for a living?! If you’d asked me 25 years ago that this is what I would end up doing I would have laughed at you. Voluntarily submitting to a lifetime of double maths, don’t be ridiculous!! But here we are.

In primary school I was sure I was destined to be famous. I spent Friday nights singing and dancing to Top of The Pops, so of course a career as a pop star was in the bag. If that didn’t work then I could be a famous writer, I started my masterwork autobiography aged about 8. Should probably get back to that. Then in middle school I was going to be a fashion designer, difficult when you can’t actually draw. Finally in high school I toyed with archeology, drumming, teaching, photography, floristry, baking and probably 10s of other careers I can’t even remember. I could definitely confidently tick the undecided box in any questionnaire.

I guess I always thought I’ll just get a degree and worry about what to do with it later. Then ended up with no degree and had to make a decision. I’m terrible at those. I worked in full time retail for about 8 weeks, decided that was 100% not for me. Then got a job in banking, no didn’t like that either. Followed that with a stint as a receptionist and general paperwork bitch at an Auction house. No wonder my family despaired at me. So I buggered off travelling with my cousin, coming to Australia and sewing the seed that bought me back all these years later. Then I finally stumbled into Merchandising, or planning as it’s know in Aus.

I knew I needed a career, I just had no idea what it should be. I went for an interview to get into recruitment, this was clearly a ploy as I got there and that job was gone. But “had I considered Merchandising?” It turns out my bit of banking and retail experience was the ideal mix. Still don’t know how I did it, but I talked my way into a graduate only role.

Interview feedback was that I was a little aggressive in the group exercise, no I think you’ll find that’s desperation!

I had to take a pay cut, allocators are basically the bottom of the merch food chain. It’s a means to an end and you have to be hungry for it. I was bloody starving, literally at some points. I would go to my parents for Sunday lunch and steal tins of food and bread out of my Mums cupboards to get me through the last week of the month. Soon I had to make a choice, and moving back in with my parents was the only option if this was the career I wanted. So I left London and moved back in, I don’t think they were particularly pleased about it either.

Now I’ve always been a great believer in work to live, but starting out you need to live to work. I got lucky, I met some amazing people who made that ok. I think I still have friends from every company I’ve ever worked for, some of them my very best. It’s these relationships that make it all worth while. We’ve always joked that Debenhams was like our mothership calling us home every few years. It’s heart breaking that the retail landscape is changing so much, with these older places not quite shifting with the times at the speed needed in the altering retail landscape.

The job is still a bit of an unknown for many, buying is the perceived glamorous side of the business. (If you actually asked a buyer how glamorous it is negotiating prices in a factory in Bangladesh, they may have a differing opinion). Although those trips to New York and LA for new season ideas still look pretty good to me 😉. We are the numbers ones. Sales forecasting, stock managing, clearance spending, profit building, department trading, option planning, assistant training rock stars. Buying and Merch planning are two sides of the same coin. If hitting a forecast bang on makes you happy then this is probably the job for you. I always say it’s part art, part science. You can do all the analysis you like, but sometimes you just have to take a punt on something you believe in working.

So here I am years later a lot further up the food chain, sometimes suffering from a bit of imposter syndrome. But every now and again proud of myself and what I’ve achieved. Who knew that being good at maths (and all the geeky piss taking that went with it) would allow me to live in two different hemispheres make countless friends and hopefully get people to see that maths is cool (ish??). So here I am for now, who knows where it will take me next?

I mean if it doesn’t work out I can always fall back on my pop career, right?

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