Apparel merchandising is a vital position of the readymade garments (RMG) industry. A fifty line garments requires at least 30 merchandisers. Though there are foreigners working as merchandisers, the factories mostly prefer hiring locals for the position.
At the beginning of the career, a merchandiser earns around Tk15,000 per month, but the salary can rise over Tk3,00,000 for the senior positions.
Merchandising also allows a fresh graduate to learn about the value chain of the RMG industry in depth. The career path allows individuals to obtain a senior position in the industry when compared to the floor level jobs of the RMG sector.
The Business Standard spoke to two industry professionals, who talked about the role of merchandisers in the industry along with the detailed career prospects of a merchandiser.
"The ability to go beyond the book helps to become a successful merchandiser"
Md Shakhawat Hossain
Country Manager, Shelsham Trading Company Ltd
TBS: What work does a merchandiser need to do when s/he joins the industry?
Md Shakhawat Hossain (MSH): In the apparel industry, the work of a merchandiser starts from product development and ends with the shipment. Elaborately, s/he needs to source clients, sample the product, add a quotation for the order placed, then negotiate to secure a price. Additionally, a merchandiser also needs to look after the production of the apparel and coordinate until the order is finally sent for shipment.
TBS: How did you become a merchandiser at the beginning of your career?
MSH: Being a textile graduate, I knew that I would have to work in the textile sector. Thus, I started looking for a suitable position where I will be able to work on a desk job rather than on the floor. Fortunately, I found an article about merchandising, asked some of my seniors about it and did some research to know more about the job. I found it fascinating, and this is how I ended up joining a garments company as an assistant merchandiser.
TBS: Can a graduate from any subject choose their career as a merchandiser?
MSH: You do not need to come from a particular background. As long as you are fluent in English in terms of oral and written communication, you will be fine in a merchandising career. However, textile and fashion designing graduates are more preferred as they can relate to the terms and technology of the apparel industry. Such graduates with technical knowledge can learn about the procedures within three to six months, whereas, it takes up to a year for a graduate of any other background.
TBS: Do graduates of the general background need to do any particular courses to join the apparel industry as a merchandiser?
MSH: Initially they do not need to do any particular courses. However, there are courses offered by different universities at the post-graduation level. For instance, if someone has an MBA in textile, s/he will undoubtedly get some privilege in the interview as there are lots of candidates for the post.
TBS: Why do you think some of the owners of garments prefer foreigners in the higher positions?
MSH: Hiring foreigners in the garment industry has remained a burning question for a very long time. I would say, in some cases, yes we do need the expertise of foreigners. But they are mostly hired to look after the technical side to boost production - ensuring quality and all. And their expertise also helps us to train our local staff. However, there are also many foreigners who are working in junior posts as well.
The skill that gives the foreigners advantage over local employees is their presentation ability. Many senior-level employees lack that. Yet, to me, it is a delusion. I have seen local merchandisers who are more talented than foreigners. Thus, it depends on the mindsets of the employers. Also, if we can show the employers that Bangladeshis have the required skills employers are looking for, I am confident that the owners will hire locals as it takes a lot of paperwork to hire a foreigner.
TBS: What skills do you think our local graduates lack and how can we develop those?
MSH: Without having proper communication, negotiation and analytical skills, one will not prosper in the merchandising career. You must know about the world, as buyers like to talk about culture and sports. If buyers see that you have a certain knowledge about their country of origin, your relationship with them will undoubtedly get better and you will be able to secure an order for your company. I would say that what we need to do is to think beyond the books. And this is a skill I feel most of our young merchandisers lack.
In terms of technical abilities, it is not fair to expect that a fresher will have all the skill required for the job. We need to give them the opportunity to learn in the industry. University courses will help them to some extent, but the management of the garments will have to take a step to nourish them further.
Some of the garments of our country arrange training and learning sessions for the assistant merchandisers to train them about the full procedures. You can never learn how to fix the cost of a product in university. Thus, your only chance to enhance your merchandising skills is by entering the industry. You also need to be dynamic and have the urge to learn.
TBS: What is the starting salary of a merchandiser and how much can a senior merchandiser earn?
MSH: The average starting salary for an assistant merchandiser is Tk15,000, and for the senior positions it crosses Tk3 lakhs. And you can easily earn Tk80,000 when you reach the mid-senior level positions.
In our company, we offer Tk25,000 to the freshers. However, some companies pay only Tk10,000 to the assistant merchandisers, and I would like to request them to raise their salary as a graduate certainly deserves more than that.
TBS: What is your advice to the future merchandisers?
MSH: Do not think that you are working for the company. Work for yourself as it will develop your skills sooner than the others. If you become skilled, money will follow. Also, merchandising requires a lot of time. Thus, you also need to have the mindset to work late hours.
"Merchandisers work as the bridge between the buyers, suppliers and the manufacturing facilities"
Saiful Islam Khan
Managing Director, Essential Clothing Ltd
The Business Standard (TBS): You started your career as a merchandiser, and now you have become an owner yourself. Please tell us something about your journey of becoming a factory owner.
Saiful Islam Khan (SIK): I was born and raised in a family that has been involved in RMG business. Back in the early 80s, my father used to have a woven factory in Chattogram. I might be fortunate or unfortunate, as I never got the chance to run my father's business because by the time I finished my studies on textile engineering from the Bangladesh University of Textiles, my father's business was completely shut down. So, for almost ten years, I worked for other people before I got the chance to start my entrepreneurial career.
At the beginning of my career, I joined Beximco Textiles as a merchandiser. Later, I worked in the retailer offices of H&M and Next plc in Dhaka. My last workplace was Viyellatex group. I joined there as a merchandise manager, and later I was promoted to the Chief Operating Officer of the company.
Working as a merchandiser at the beginning of my career really helped me understand the business better. Through my job experience, I attained comprehensive knowledge about RMG business, supply chain and the industry. In 2010, I partnered with one of my colleagues who started a factory named Silken Sewing Limited in 2008. In the beginning, we just had a four line knit factory. But we have grown ever since, and we currently have 26 lines in the factory and employed more than 2,000 people.
In 2014, I started another factory named Essential Clothing Limited, on a piece of inherited land in Gazipur's Konabari. The company now has created employment opportunities for more than a thousand people. From day to day operations, I look after the factory myself.
TBS: What complications does a young merchandiser face in his career?
SIK: I would say that in our country, there is still a gap between academic learning versus the practical knowledge required for the job. Some of the companies have internship and training programmes for their employees but unfortunately, most companies do not provide such training opportunities.
Whenever a fresh graduate enters the job without any technical knowledge and education, s/he faces a lot of challenges. They have to learn everything while doing the job. But in the job, everyone is busy and there is no dedicated curriculum or system to groom a fresh graduate.
However, if someone comes with a technical educational background such as in textile engineering or fashion designing, or a bit of training on the business or the products, it makes a lot of difference for them because they can understand the job very quickly.
TBS: What skills does an employer seek before they hire a merchandiser?
SIK: Many people think that communication is the most crucial skill for merchandising. Yes, communication is essential, but I give more importance to basic mathematical skills as well. When a merchandiser is sourcing products, keeping track of the consignments and booking orders for the suppliers needs a lot of calculations. I have found that a person with adequate mathematical knowledge makes fewer mistakes, which is very crucial for the operation.
In terms of communication, it does not only mean the ability to speak or write in English, it also means communicating with the production team, customers and other stakeholders for a smoother delivery.
TBS: You have worked at a higher managerial position for a company but in many cases, we see that the owners of garments prefer foreigners for such posts over locals. As an owner yourself, do you share the same values?
SIK: It actually depends and is a burning topic in the industry. In a certain category of RMG – formal suits, outerwear, jackets – we still do not have much expertise in our country. In those cases, the expats help us but in most cases, we have skilled people among the locals. Also, our locals are gaining skills from the foreigners, and nowadays I do not think that we need foreigners in this sector like we used to earlier.
TBS: How do you think we can enhance the skills of our local merchandisers?
SIK: One of the greatest qualities a young merchandiser is agility. Quick response is the key to success in this industry. You cannot move forward with a lethargic attitude.
Merchandising is a key role in the RMG industry. It works as the bridge between the buyers, suppliers and the manufacturing facilities. Thus they need to have excellent communication skills and be proactive.
In terms of enhancing other skills, technical education helps a lot. But if you are from any different educational background, you need to have a thirst for learning. Because all you will get to learn is from your workplace with help of the seniors.
To enhance communication skills, you can take basic English courses which will help a lot. But to take it a step further, if one knows any other language such as Japanese or Russian, it will undoubtedly give them some added benefits as the Japanese and Russians are coming to our country to do business in the RMG sector.
TBS: What is the salary structure in this career path?
SIK: There are many factories and retailers in the country, and the salary varies from company to company. The starting salary could be as less as Tk15,000 and could be as high as Tk1,00,000.
There is a considerable gap, to be honest, and it depends totally on the policy of the organisation, requirement and qualification of the candidate.
At some point in their career, a young merchandiser will obtain a managerial position as well. For senior positions, the salary range is higher.
TBS: What will be your advice to the future merchandisers?
SIK: The best thing about merchandising career is that you get the chance to understand and comprehend the business from the driver's seat. There is no other position in the industry where you can learn about the entire value chain in such depths. If you have the urge to learn, you will know everything about the RMG industry and the top-level positions are easier to achieve for the merchandisers.