|Recommended Degree Level||Certificate or Higher|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||280,950|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||3.1%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||9,120|
- Wholesale and retail buyers are generally required to possess high school diplomas or their equivalents. In fact, retail employers may not ask prospective buyers for higher-education credentials. However, these buyers frequently submit to exhaustive, company-specific on-the-job training programs that are designed to familiarize new hires with negotiation protocols, supply-chain issues, and other essential pieces of information.
- Buyers who wish to work for manufacturing firms or specialized retailers may need to obtain bachelor's degrees in business, accounting, finance or other related fields.
- Individuals who hold engineering degrees may appear especially attractive to specialized employers.
- Those who wish to become purchasing managers or directors may need to obtain bachelor's or master's degrees in business, finance or supply chain management.
What you study:
Entry-level purchasing agents are expected to be comfortable with the following subjects:
- Basic accounting
Purchasing managers and highly specialized buyers may need additional qualifications in these areas:
- Business administration
- Supply chain management
- Mechanical or chemical engineering
- Advanced manufacturing practices
A Day in the Life
Becoming a purchasing agent wasn't a childhood aspiration of yours. Instead, you imagined that you'd become a firefighter or astronaut one day. While neither of these goals ended up panning out, you're probably better off as a purchasing agent.
When you first considered the profession, you were surprised to learn that experienced buyers are compensated handsomely for their work. Although the job can be stressful and time-consuming, you appreciate the lifestyle that it affords you.
After deciding to take up this occupation, you found work with a major national retail chain that operates large-format stores in shopping districts. As a result of your employer's size, you're responsible for making purchasing and stocking decisions in a defined trade area. Although you started as an entry-level buyer, you worked your way up the food chain and are now in charge of buying for your region.
Since the company that employs you sells a wide range of durable and non-durable goods, your job duties are remarkably varied. Today, you'll be making calls to suppliers and visiting a few stores in your area to ensure that each unit is following the shelving and product-placement protocols that have been outlined by the corporate office.
You arrive at your office by 7:30 a.m. in order to make some calls to your company's East Coast suppliers. After sitting down at your desk and checking your e-mail, you pull up a report that ranks your suppliers according to various metrics. It appears as if your employer is using two companies to stock the same product in the stores for which you're responsible.
You notice a pricing discrepancy and immediately call the company that's charging more. After haggling for 15 minutes and getting nowhere, you politely inform your counterpart that you won't be renewing their supply contract. Although you hate breaking off business relationships like this, your action will end up saving your employer several hundred thousand dollars over the course of the next five years.
You repeat this exchange several times and update your supplier charts as necessary. While you don't take such drastic steps to adjust your company's supply arrangements very often, your superiors have been pressuring you to cut costs recently.
Before you leave the office, you make one call to a supplier that had hoped to win your business. You had visited its manufacturing facility the week before and been impressed by the quality of its operation. After some last-minute haggling over pricing, you agree "in principle" to a long-term supply contract and set a meeting date to finalize it.
On the way to the first unit that you'll be visiting, you grab a bite to eat on the road. Since you'll be traveling more than 50 miles today, your employer will reimburse you for your mileage and food costs.
You arrive at the retail facility and meet with its general manager. She gives you a brief tour of the store and turns you loose to complete your observations on your own. Using a tablet with a built-in camera, you record any items that look out of place and make special note of slow-selling, seasonal or obviously defective products. Before you leave, you reconvene with the store's manager and obtain a detailed sales report for the past quarter. You'll use this information to determine whether to discontinue or revamp any particular selections.
The next visit proceeds in a similar fashion. As you drive to and from the store, you use your hands-free phone to make several calls to your company's clients. Finally, you make one last call to your immediate superior. She informs you that a critical mass of store managers have expressed dismay over the high prices that the company charges for a particular manufacturer's products. Since other retailers sell them for less, she advises you to work out a better deal with the supplier.
Upon returning to the office, you pack up your things and head home. Although you've worked for about 10 hours and driven nearly 100 miles, you're satisfied with the progress that you've made. You're looking forward to returning to work tomorrow.
Certifications and Licensing
There are no state-specific licenses for wholesale and retail buyers. However, several professional organizations offer optional credentials that may render aspiring buyers more attractive in the eyes of employers. These credentials might be absolutely essential for individuals who wish to be considered for management-level positions. The Certified Professional Purchasing Manager and Certified Professional Purchaser designations both require their holders to have at least three years of experience in the field. Meanwhile, public-sector buyers with minimal amounts of experience can obtain the Certified Professional Public Buyer designation. Entry-level private-sector candidates may be eligible for APICS's Certified Supply Chain Professional designation.
Full-time versus part-time and work location:
Wholesale and retail buyers generally work full-time in a corporate office setting. Although some of their work can be performed from home, these individuals are required to meet regularly with their superiors and clients to discuss pricing issues, negotiate contracts and discuss various strategic initiatives. Depending upon the nature of the industry in which they work, they may also be expected to take day trips or extended business trips on an occasional basis. Further, most purchasing agents can expect to work extra hours in the morning or evening as operations dictate.
Those who wish to become wholesale and retail buyers might find the following web-based resources helpful:
- Institute for Supply Management -- The Institute for Supply Management is a full-service organization that advocates on behalf of purchasing agents and managers. It offers continuing education seminars, professional development workshops, general information about careers in the field, and an interactive jobs board that's among the most comprehensive in the business. The ISM also regularly puts out closely-watched reports about the state of the national economy.
- Institute for Public Procurement -- Also known as the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, the IPP deals primarily with purchasing agents who work in the public sector. Like the ISM, it offers a variety of professional development resources and sponsors events for aspiring wholesale and retail buyers. Although it doesn't have a dedicated jobs board, it maintains close relationships with government agencies and private employers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics -- The U.S. Labor Department's fact sheet on wholesale and retail buying careers offers insight into the job duties, salary expectations and credentialing requirements of those who work as purchasing agents and managers. This fact sheet also examines the industry's outlook for the coming decade.
- Association for Operations Management -- Known as APICS, the Association for Operations Management is a research and advocacy organization that produces detailed white papers on the state of the purchasing industry. It also maintains a well-respected certification system and offers a wealth of test-prep materials for aspiring purchasing agents. APICS runs a full jobs board for newly-minted wholesale and retail buyers.