To celebrate all the Inductees into Accessories Magazine’s 2015 Merchants Hall of Fame, we will spotlight one merchant a day leading up the FABB ball on May 6th, where Accessories Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Lauren Parker will present the awards. To see the entire list of inductees over the years, click here.
PAMELA MCELROY, Buyer, Designer handbags, Belk, Charlotte, North Carolina
Bio: I’ve spent 25 years as a Buyer (1988-1996: Pebbles, South Hill VA, Handbags and Fashion Accessories Buyer; 1996-1998 Venture, St Louis. MO, Sr. Buyer of Handbags and Fashion Accessories; 1988-1999: J Riggins, St Louis, MO, Men’s Accessory Buyer; 1999-2006: Parisian, Birmingham, AL, Designer Handbag Buyer; 2007-present: Belk, Charlotte, NC, Designer Handbag Buyer). I graduated Old Dominion University with a BS in Education and a Minor in Marketing.
Did you always want to become a retail merchant? Prior to graduating from high school I wanted to be an airline stewardess. At that time, stewardesses had to maintain a certain weight and stop flying before they reached 40, so I knew I should find another career. My first job in retail was as a sales associate at Miller and Rhodes (Petersburg, VA). At that point I knew that I wanted to become a buyer so that I could shop and spend someone else’s money!
What is your earliest retail memory?
When I was around 6 years old I recall being afraid of escalators. I was with my very well-polished grandmother at a department store and she proceeded down the escalator and I got nervous so I stayed at the top. She had to circle back to get me so that we could go down together. Today, I still proceed slowly down escalators but now in 4-inch heels! I also remember when stores would open at 5 a.m. on the Friday After Thanksgiving and we would have ATG sales. Now stores are opening at 6 p.m. on Thursday, and we are having Thanksgiving dinner and Thanksgiving sales on the same day.
What would you be if not a retail merchant?
A high school marketing teacher.
The best aspect of being a merchant?
Seeing the sales results on Monday mornings. I am driven by results, so when I can see increases every day I know I have made a difference in a lot of ladies lives through their purchasing of a new designer handbag. I also love seeing associates at work carrying handbags they purchased from Belk.
The most challenging?
Trying to find adequate space on the sales floor for all our brands. Being in designer handbags, our vendors have square footage requirements for shops and it becomes complex when the square footage of the vendor shops are bigger than the square footage of the entire handbag department!
What’s the most interesting thing you did today regarding your job? I went out of the office for lunch! That has become a luxury.
“The best part of being a retail merchant? Seeing the sales results on Monday mornings.”
What is your buying philosophy?
Listen to everyone, don’t be afraid to test new brands and ideas, shop your competition, save a portion of your open-to-buy receipts and create partnerships with your management. Management will never turn down a great idea that will drive sales.
Any items you took a risk on that surpassed expectations?
Several years ago I took a risk with Dooney & Bourke with their newly introduced signature “IT” bag. I wasn’t doing business with Dooney at the time but jumped on the trend. Once I shared the results with my DMM (Tim Byrket at Parisian), he took almost my entire OTB to support this trend. It was a risk but the results paid off immediately and it allowed us to surpass our annual sales goal.
What’s the strangest product ever pitched to you?
A satchel handbag with just one strap. I won’t buy this trend until they add the other strap.
What inspires you most in your job?
I enjoy reading Accessories magazine! I still remember over 20 years ago my former DMM (John Bower at Peebles) and I would go through every single page looking at the new accessories and the industry party photos. I also enjoy visiting other retailers, especially in New York, to gain ideas and validate my decision to carry certain brands and to pass on others.
What are your personal favorite accessories?
My Brighton Swarovski crystal hoop earrings, my Michael Kors watch and all of my designer handbags (I carry a different handbag every day).
What was your New Year’s resolution?
To shop new vendors during market and before adding a new vendor I will delete an existing vendor to accommodate all of the product that I currently have on the floor.
Favorite places to go in New York City for Market?
Chin Chin’s Restaurant and Soho.
What’s the last cultural thing you loved?
The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture and the Mint Museum are both must-sees for anyone visiting Charlotte.
“I couldn’t do my job every day without …
…of course I have to mention my team (GMM, DMM (Kathy Thomas, 2014 Accessoies Magazine Hall of Fame Winner), Planner, Associate Buyer, Assistant Planner and MA). But I couldn’t do my job without my calculator and notebook with all my notes and recaps. My husband and daughter motivate me to put my best forward, and every night at dinner they listen to all the stories about my vendors.
Advice for a Millennial who wants a career in retail?
Be prepared to work hard and work long hours, wait your turn to sit in the “big chair,” find a mentor and be nice to everyone you come in contact with because you never know who will be able to help you reach your career goals.