By Emma Lambert
Photos: Sarah Teebagy
Sarah worked as an associate buyer just outside of Boston at the TJX headquarters in Framingham, MA. While working with the buying team that handles sterling silver and fashion jewelry, she was given the opportunity to sit in on many of the price negotiations that occurred between brands and TJX buyers. Sarah got exposure to the unique world of buying for an off-price retailer like TJX, where they try to buy high quality goods at low prices to be able to offer great goods and prices to customers.
It is well-known that TJX has a great relationship with Northeastern, but what first drew you to the company and specifically to a role in buying?
As a business student, we were required to create a 50-page business plan on the TJX Companies during my freshman year Intro to Business class. Part of this class included attending presentations by guest speakers from TJX, too. This project spanned over my entire fall semester, and by the end of it, I felt like I had gained a huge amount of knowledge about the company. During my middler year, my co-op advisor recommended that I attend a presentation from Carolyn Barton (a Talent Acquisition Manager at TJX who heads recruiting at NU). I went to her presentation, and when she spoke about the Corporate Merchandise Training Program at TJX, I was really drawn in. She spoke a lot about the buying lifestyle and the responsibilities that go along with that career, and it seemed like something I could definitely see myself doing after college.
During the co-op panel you told a story about negotiating a huge deal for jewelry, could you elaborate on that story?
Last spring, I co-oped as an associate buyer in the jewelry department. I worked most directly with our three buyers who buy sterling silver and fashion jewelry. Towards the end of my co-op, we had a vendor visiting from Israel who we do a huge sterling silver business with. Suzanne, the buyer for that particular vendor, invited me to the appointment, where we spent hours going through the all the merchandise with the vendors.
After we selected what styles we wanted, we asked the vendors to leave the room so Suzanne and I could discuss pricing. Suzanne and I agreed on numbers and then the vendors came back in. Suzanne negotiated the biggest part of the deal, but then let me negotiate the rest, which was close to a million retail dollars’ worth of jewelry! This was such a cool experience and awesome way to practice my negotiating skills in a real life setting.
What was it like to be working so closely with the buyers for TJX?
It was an awesome co-op. While I was never actually given the direct responsibilities of a buyer, my opinion was always considered when working with my buyers. It was great following up with vendors and building relationships with them, digging into our selling reports, and getting exposure to all the other things that the buyers do on an everyday basis. I even got to travel with them several times, so I got to see what the part of the career is like too.
One of the best things about this particular co-op is that it is not an entry level position that you could have after college. In fact, it takes years to become an associate buyer. What was the most valuable lesson or experience you took away from this coop?
I think you hit the nail on the head with that statement. I am so glad I got exposure to this position because now I have a very clear idea of what exactly I will be aspiring to if I choose this career path. Had I not done this co-op and started in the entry level position in the merchandise training program (allocation analyst), I’m not sure I would have wanted to put in the years to get to become a buyer. But now that I know exactly what I’m working towards, it all seems worth it.
For people interested in this position in the future (myself included for my third coop cycle!), what do you suggest to do to be a good candidate?
Attending the info sessions is a must! Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions and be outgoing (even if you think you’re being annoying). As a buyer, your work life will be spent asking questions and talking to other people nonstop, so never be shy to speak up!
Can you explain the interview process briefly? TJX is notorious for having a competitive co-op and intensive screening process.
If the HR department thinks you might be a good fit, they will first ask you to come in for a group interview on campus. I think even before you do the group interview, you’re required to take this personality test online, where they ask you a series of questions and basically gauge your work ethic/style. The group interview is an analytical exercise — you are given a half hour to complete the exercise individually and then you discuss it as a group. The recruiters mostly just observe during this interview. Based on your performance in the group interview, if the recruiters think you’re a good fit, they will call you back for four 30-minute interviews that take place at the office. Then, you should get a call within a day or two either way!
After this co-op, are you still interested in buying, and what are your future career plans now?
I’m definitely still interested in buying after this co-op. I’m currently back on co-op at TJX right now as an allocation analyst (the entry level position in the Merchandise Training Program), and my goal is to pick up where I leave off in this role after graduation and work my way up to buying full-time.
As far as mentoring and teaching, how do you feel that your coworkers and supervisors did in encouraging your growth as a future profession in the merchandising field?
My team was incredible. They were extremely supportive of my career goals and were always there to answer questions and push me with challenges. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of mentors. They put their trust in me and let me work with their vendors and take some of their responsibilities off of their plates. They also let me travel a lot with them, which at times may have been inconvenient for them, but was a huge learning and growing opportunity for me.