When Caitlyn Siebenmorgen ’06 was young child, she used to take her clothes and model them when her grandmother, Wilma Walker LaGrange ’47, would babysit.
Fast forward to today and Siebenmorgen is living her fashionista fantasy as a dress buyer for TJ Maxx and Marshall’s department stores.
A pivotal point in her decision to pursue her dream of a career in fashion came when Siebenmorgen spent a semester at The Philadelphia Center during the fall semester of her senior year. The business administration major landed a coveted internship with the popular lifestyle brand Anthropologie.
“That was my first exposure to pure retail,” she said. “(I saw) behind the scenes: the planning, the buying, the shipping … I absolutely loved it.”
Knowing she would need more merchandising experience to for her chosen profession, Siebenmorgen attended Indiana University and spent a year learning everything she could about the apparel business.
It wasn’t long afterward that TJX Corporation, the parent company of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, recruited her for her first position as an allocation analyst. Siebenmorgen quickly moved up the ranks, serving as an associate planner and planning manager before taking on her current role in 2012.
After a day spent reviewing sales at her office in Framingham, Mass., located just west of Boston, she spends three days a week traveling to New York City to vendors’ showrooms, including those of top-selling brands Betsey Johnson, Jessica Simpson, Ellen Tracy and Vera Wang.
Siebenmorgen looks at the vendors’ current lines, and dispelled the myth that TJ Maxx and Marshall’s only carry last year’s models or damaged goods, calling them the same “great products that you’d find in Nordstrom or Macy’s.”
She makes anywhere from five to seven appointments each day, and reviews their inventory to see what might appeal to her customers. Purchases may come from an excess in stock.
“Macy’s may have bought 6,000 pieces of a dress and when it came in, needed only 4,000,” said Siebenmorgen. “Now, this vendor is stuck with 2,000 additional units that they’re looking to get rid of. That’s where we come in and get the great pricing.”
When not visiting vendors, Siebenmorgen will travel to various TJ Maxx and Marshall’s locations to see how the products look on the floor. She also goes abroad; already this year she’s visited Barcelona, Spain, and London. In a few weeks she’ll travel to Germany to meet with a vendor of linen dresses.
While she loves her work, Siebenmorgen admitted there are challenges. She has to make sure a certain percentage of her purchases sell on the floor. The expected turnaround time is often quite quick, with a complete turnover in stock to happen in about a month; some items sell out in as little as a week. Some items, however, take longer to move.
“The true couture stuff that we carry has a much lower sell-through life,” said Siebenmorgen. “On a $999 dress that you’re selling for $499, it’s still great value, but (the customer) isn’t always willing to pay $500.”
Finding balance between work and home can also prove difficult. Married to Steve Siebenmorgen ’04, she’s mom to 10-month old daughter, Piper.
“For me, it’s being completely focused when I’m at home (on home life) and being completely focused (on work) when I’m at work,” said Siebenmorgen. “I hardly ever take my work home, and when I do, I work after Piper goes to sleep … When I’m in Europe or New York, I Face Time every night.”
Eventually, she hopes to become a merchandise manager, overseeing departments and buyers like herself. Siebenmorgen credits her Hanover education for giving her the confidence to pursue her dream.
“(Professor of Economics) Eric Dodge always challenged me, and he taught me the understanding of value within the economic world, (which) is very applicable to what I do today,” she said. “When I walk in (to a showroom) and I see a piece of clothing, I have to understand the value of it so I know what my customer would be willing to pay for it.”
Ultimately, it was a spring term trip in Belgium that sparked a love of travel and gave her the confidence to attempt a semester at The Philadelphia Center.
“That led me into the internship (with Anthropologie),” she said. “Without that, I would never have been in the retail world where I am today.”
Published Tuesday, June 17, 2014