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Progressive Grocer's 1984 survey of buyers and merchandisers.

Praise and blame, approval and disparagement, flattery and defamation--these are all part of the job for buyers and merchandisers. Constantly under the gun, they are subject to mounting strain as the money riding on their judgement increases. Electronic systems give them more facts to consider, but don't necessarily simplify decisions. Buyers put in long hours, yet run out of time. Although they are working faster and smarter than ever, so is the competition. Significantly, competitive pressure heads their list of worries at work--but pressure from management is not far behind.

The working day for buyers and merchandisers is sometimes rewarding, sometimes frustrating, always demanding. However, when all is said and done, most of them find it very satisfying. Lack of time is the major hangup. That's what many of the group say keeps them from doing the job to the best of their ability. Excessive paperwork is often given responsibility for the squeeze--which is understandable, since this now takes up about a quarter of their total hours. Not surprisingly, they think more assistants should be assigned to handle routine functions so that time would be "freed up" for more important tasks.

One reason for the time bind is the huge number of items that have to be watched over. On average, buyers purchase 1,971 individual SKUs, buyer/merchandisers keep track of 3,143, and merchandisers look after 4,894. But it is not uncommon for a buyer to handle more than 3,000 SKUs, or for a merchandiser to be responsible for more than 10,000.

In terms of personal characteristics, buyers and merchandisers span a wide range of age, education, income and grocery experience. They certainly cannot be stereotyped. It is possible, though, to construct a "composite" based on the Progressive Grocer survey. He, much more often than she:

* Is 44 years old.

* Has attended college.

* Earns $33,000 a year.

* Has 20 years of grocery experience.

* Lives in own house with resale value of $92,000.

* Is a registered Republican, moderate to conservative in outlook.

* Prefers swimming, golfing, and fishing to tennis, bowling and jogging.

Compared to six years earlier, today's executive have more schooling: are better compensated, even allowing for inflation; and tend to be less satisfied on the job. They work longer, drink more, and smoke less.

Their mood, at present, is very optimistic. Looking to the second half of the year, a solid majority expect grocery industry profits to improve. The main reasons given for the rosy view are continued improvement in the national economy; reduced unemployment, leading to larger consumer expenditures; and efforts by the administration to promote good conditions in an election year.

The most difficult problems they anticipate during the remainder of the year are all familiar. As usual, there is much concern about productivity, reaching sales objectives, and receiving complete shipments on time. But there is also a high degree of confidence that the problems are manageable. Positive Outlook

Chain buyers and merchandisers are somewhat more optimistic about profit prospects for the grocery industry in the last half of 1984 than their wholesale counterparts, but both groups expect improvement. Merchandisers are most positive of all. Ranking of Problems

Productivity improvement ranks high among anticipated problems. However, wholesalers--and particularly voluntaries--are primarily concerned about delayed and incomplete shipments. In general, buyers tend to be more apprehensive than merchandisers. What They Earn

The pay is better in chain organization than in wholesale companies. As might be expected, earnings rise with age. On average the 46-and-over executives earn $8,000 more than those under 35. There is no significant difference, though, between college graduates and others--perhaps because the grads tend to be younger. How Long They Work

To go with higher pay, chain executives put in more hours. Merchandisers usually work longer hours than buyers. How Work Time Is Spent

Paper work occupies the greatest part of the day, most notably for buyers, who spend almost 30% of their time that way. Only 3% of the buyers' time is devoted to visiting stores. Conversely, merchandisers are in the field for 31% of their hours and spend just 17% on paper work. Meetings with salesmen take up 18% of the day for buyers, 16% for buyer/merchandisers. Executives with smaller companies (serving 50 or fewer supermarkets) spend almost twice as much of their time in stores as their opposite numbers in firms serving more than 100 supermarkets. Grocery Industry Experience

Total industry experience is abut equal for employees of chains and wholesalers. However, the chain people's background includes an average of 10 years at store level, compared to 7 years for wholesalers. Report Cards

Both chains and wholesalers think their firm's buyers are superior to those in competing companies. Merchandisers give lower grades than buyers, both for their own organizations and for competitors. College graduates and younger executives are least impressed with the competence level in their own and other companies. Electronic Training Program?

A formal training program for analyzing electronic data exists in exactly the same percent of chain and wholesale companies. Voluntary wholesalers are out in front, with 40% reporting a program in place. The greater the number of supermarkets served, the more likely it is for a company to provide training. Corporate Store Managers' Role

Chain store managers have considerable control in determining order quantities and implementing instore merchandising, according to their headquarters executives. In most areas, though, managers of wholesalers' corporate stores exert greater influence than their chain counterparts. Job Satisfaction

* Type of Work

Merchandisers, as a group, are happiest with the type of work they are doing; 76% call themselves "very satisfied." In terms of age, executives under 35 are considerably less content than their older colleagues.

* Counter Position

In contrast to their feelings about the type of work, fewer buyers and merchandisers are very satisfied with their current position. Most restive of all are the college graduates. Most satisfied are executives in the southern region. Job Satisfaction

* Would you do it again?

If they had it to do over, most respondents would choose the grocery industry again. Least certain are the college graduates. Advise Children To be Grocers?

When it comes to advising their children, wholesalers are more apt than chain executives to recommend a career in the grocery business. The majority of chain employees say "probably" or "definitely" not. Future Status

Chain and wholesale executives see eye to eye on the jobs they expect to be holding five years from now. The greatest number look forward to a different, presumably higher, position in their present companies. Relatively few think they will change employers, and only a handful intend to leave the grocery field. Not surprisingly, the most mobile--upward and/or outward--is the group under 35.
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Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jun 1, 1984
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