Learning the Ropes in Retailing

From Stanford to Toys 'R' Us was quite a jump, but Sucharita Mulpuru was surprised by how well B-school prepared her for it

I thought it would be nearly impossible for MBAs to find positions in retail, but when a spot in the management-rotation program at Toys 'R' Us came up several months ago, it was something I just couldn't pass up. After several weeks of what can only be described as baptism by fire -- working as a manager for one of our largest stores -- I'm now an associate buyer for toddler items in the merchandising group. Among dozens of other things, I buy safety gates and bedrails for more than 800 stores in both the Toys 'R' Us (TOY ) and Babies 'R' Us chains. These items add up to several hundred million dollars in sales annually.

Products are what drive customers to a store, so merchandising is nearly always valued as the heart of a retailer. Merchandising divisions at all retail companies, from Home Depot (HD ) to Bed, Bath & Beyond (BBBY ), typically have two components.

First, you have the more creative merchandisers (or buyers, as they're often called) who decide what products go into the stores, how they'll be priced, and how those items will be stacked in our aisles and on our shelves. Planners, by contrast, run the analytical side of the business, deciding how much to order, when to send it to stores, and which stores to send the items to. Success in retail relies on both.


7:30 a.m. -- I'm usually in my car, switching between Bloomberg Radio and NPR, weaving my way through traffic from Hoboken to Wayne, N.J., where Toys 'R' Us' headquarters is located. Several colleagues live in New York City, but my husband and I figured Hoboken would be an easier commute for both of us -- he works in Midtown Manhattan, a quick ferry ride away.

8:15 a.m. -- At my desk, I respond to about a dozen e-mails and voice mails I've received overnight. I check sales in our centralized data system to make sure that the new child-safety gate we just began selling is performing as planned.

9:00 a.m. -- Time for our weekly meeting with the dot-com group to check inventory status and sales. We often use Toysrus.com and Babiesrus.com to test new items, new price points, and new fabrics and colors.

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You can contact Sucharita at: smbweek@yahoo.com

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