A day in the life of… Karla Woolley, Head of Buying at The Perfume Shop
Welcome to a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the vibrant world of retail strategy and product curation with Karla Woolley, the Head of Buying at The Perfume Shop (TPS).
In this candid interview, we explore Karla’s dynamic role in shaping the retail experience, influencing product assortments, and contributing to the overall success of TPS. Get ready for an insider’s perspective on the exciting and impactful journey of a retail expert.
Walk me through a typical day in your role?
There’s no typical day for me. My role involves a wide range of tasks, from team development, contributing to committees on modern slavery, corporate social responsibility, to working with suppliers on sustainability.
Ensuring our suppliers align with AS Watson’s environmental and sustainability goals adds an interesting and challenging dimension. We collaborate with various brands, each at different stages of their sustainability journeys, making it a dynamic experience.
I’m also involved in exclusive product development, sourcing product for customer loyalty programs, and overseeing special projects like the Advent calendar. It’s an all-encompassing role!
What drew you to a career in the buying department at The Perfume Shop, and what do you love most about your role?
My journey in retail began in 1979 on the iconic Oxford Street. I went into a recruitment agency on the High Street, and I secured a position at Debenhams as an allocator, a then prominent department store. In those early days, a clear career path eluded me, but the allure of Buying quickly caught my attention. Expressing my interest in moving into buying, one of the Directors facilitated the transition.
Contrary to the notion that retail jobs are merely transitional, I discovered that the retail industry offered a rewarding career with boundless possibilities.
Throughout the years, I’ve had the privilege of working for renowned brands such as, The Body Shop, Past Times and Whittards of Chelsea. My enthusiasm for the retail industry remains steadfast.
About eight years ago, I joined The Perfume Shop. Initially stepping in as a senior buyer to cover maternity leave and I’m still here!
There are numerous aspects of the role that I enjoy. Negotiating and collaborating with diverse brands to bring exclusive products to our customers is a constant and enjoyable challenge.
The unwavering commitment to sustainability and the ever-evolving landscape of product development are aspects that resonate deeply with me. Did you know that our new store refit counters are crafted from recycled fridges? And, our chandeliers, fashioned from reused and recycled bottles, lend an eco-friendly touch to the overall aesthetic and functionality of our stores. Coupled with unique projects like the Advent calendar, these elements add an exciting dimension to my role.
Are there specific skills that are important to this role?
In my perspective, one of the most crucial skills for any job is strong people skills—the ability to connect effectively with others. The remarkable individuals I’ve encountered throughout my career underscore the significance of genuine conversations and the collective achievements that arise from them. This principle holds particularly true for my experience in this company.
Looking ahead, where do you see your own growth opportunities in your career within The Perfume Shop?
The company is committed to growing its own bespoke ranges, and I play a key role in creating exclusive brands. The focus is on expanding our own brand presence, and I see myself continuing to contribute to this growth by developing new partnerships and bringing unique products to the market. This can be by working with both the Brands and Own Brand.
Can you share some aspects of your role that you find challenging, and how do you navigate through those challenges?
Challenges often arise in dealing with commodity fluctuations or production delays, especially during COVID-19. I tackle these issues by engaging directly with suppliers, troubleshooting, and ensuring effective communication with our merchandising team. Jumping on the phone and directly communicating with people is key to finding solutions that keep the flow of products steady.
On the flip side, what moments or aspects of your job make you think, “Wow, this is amazing!”?
Three areas; change, people, and learning. Initiatives like using recycled materials in our store counters, implementing sustainable practices, and launching exclusive ranges are truly rewarding. Witnessing positive changes in the industry, such as reduced plastic usage and increased focus on sustainability, gives me a sense of accomplishment.
Seeing younger buyers come through and gain confidence is another highlight.
Every day is different, providing a constant thrill of learning and adapting to advancements in technology for example AI and the metaverse. It’s an exciting time to work in retail.
For someone considering a career in retail, what advice would you give?
All I can say is retail offers a fantastic career with diverse opportunities in buying, merchandising, marketing, customer loyalty, e-commerce, finance, and more. My advice is to embrace continuous learning, build strong people skills, and understand the impact of your role on both customers and the environment.
What’s the team dynamic like, and how does it contribute to the success of the overall operation?
Collaboration is so important – to me, the team and to the business. While I work closely with merchandising on stock management, I also collaborate with other departments and through various committees… The dynamic team environment ensures smooth communication, allowing us to align our goals and contribute to the overall success of the company.
If you had to describe your job to someone in just a few sentences, what would you say? What makes it stand out among other roles in the retail industry?
As the Head of Buying, I lead efforts in developing exclusive ranges, negotiating with brands on sustainability, and contributing to corporate social responsibility. The role stands out for its dynamic nature, the focus on sustainability, and the opportunity to create unique experiences for our customers through bespoke products and building strong business plans with the Brands we work with.
In 2023, The Perfume Shop team won the People in Retail Awards “Trainer of the Year”. If you have a fantastic team or people, seize the opportunity to showcase your achievements at the People in Retail Awards 2024. Find out more about entering now.