Using supplier relationships to serve customers better
A Marks and Spencer case study

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Page 4: The buying process

Marks And Spencer 4 Image 5Members of the buying team work with either primary suppliers who manufacture garments or secondary suppliers who provide the fabrics as part of the range building process. By working with suppliers throughout the buying process, Marks & Spencer’s contribution to the finished product is all encompassing. The buying team comprises:

  1. Selectors - work closely with Marks & Spencer’s design group and suppliers, and are responsible for offering choice to customers and delivering it into stores on time. Doing this involves considerable research in order to keep up-to-date with the latest trends.
  2. Merchandisers - are responsible for profitability. Their role involves negotiating prices, estimating the quantities needed, sales analysis and scheduling the production with manufacturers and suppliers.
  3. Technologists - develop and monitor specifications and quality control systems. They act as technical advisors to the selectors and merchandisers, as well as to manufacturers. They also work on long-term projects with secondary suppliers which provide the business with advances in manufacturing and fabrics.

Nicola Lewis is a selector for Marks & Spencer. She began working for Marks & Spencer after leaving university. Beginning her career in Stores, she has now moved into the Buying Group. Nicola helps to compile a well-balanced range of products which will appeal to Marks & Spencer’s core customer base but which also has plenty of newness to move the range forward. Managing the supply base involves two buying cycles based on two seasons, Autumn and Spring. It involves working up to 18 months ahead.

Developing and cementing relationships with suppliers is central to Nicola’s role as a selector at Marks & Spencer. Working in a fast-changing business environment with a broad mix of personalities and characters, she feels that by building relationships that encourage people to be individuals, they become a source of creativity and innovation. Working with suppliers provides Nicola with independence and empowerment to manage a project. It also involves being a member of a team focused on meeting customer needs.

Fabric suppliers come from across the world. Discussions enable designers to share their ideas and discuss innovations in a way which helps them to become more competitive. After careful analysis, which involves assessing the design, production viability and cost, white sealing takes place. This is the pre-selection of prototypes which meet the criteria with the intention to buy.

Marks And Spencer 4 Image 3Marks & Spencer selectors, merchandisers and technologists then work with each supplier to help prepare products to meet the high standards necessary for the stores. This involves:

  • First fit which provides information and measurements establishing the base size for the style
  • Pre-production meetings to discuss production viability of Marks & Spencer standards and confirmation of packaging details
  • Test lots which confirm the viability of patterns as well as make-up methods and standards
  • Grades which approve dimensions and fit of sizes identified
  • Wearer trials which assess the performance of garments in customer use. The fit, fabric, trims, colours and labels are all important for this final stage of development.

Courtaulds Textiles is a large textile company which, as a major supplier, has had a relationship with Marks & Spencer that goes back more than fifty years. Staff at Courtaulds Textiles work closely with those at Marks & Spencer through shared goals and values. If a product range is successful for Marks & Spencer, then Courtaulds Textiles will also reap the rewards.

Courtaulds Textiles believes that Marks & Spencer’s demands for excellence have helped it to become a better manufacturer. Working with staff at Marks & Spencer has led employees at Courtaulds Textiles to recognise that the customer is constantly looking for newness.

This has stimulated investment and innovation which has fuelled the market towards technological and scientific development. At the same time, wider policies such as quality and environmental standards have helped Courtaulds Textiles to become a better business.

Marks and Spencer | Using supplier relationships to serve customers better