Q&A: Erin Egnatchik, Staples Merchandise Training Program
Vault: How did you find out about Staples' Merchandise Training Program?
Egnatchik: The opportunity was posted on our college recruiting web site, and I applied through our career development office.
Vault: Were you looking for a position in the retail industry specifically?
Egnatchik: Not specifically, but I was looking for a job in the marketing field. Babson is a great business school in general, so many companies sought out our graduates for finance related positions as well as some marketing opportunities.
Vault: How much did you know about what to expect as you started the program?
Egnatchik: I entered MTP in its first year so I had a lot of questions as to what to expect. Staples was still figuring out what it wanted the program to be. At this point, the program is in its fourth year of recruiting graduates, so there are many more set expectations and guidelines.
Now, there's a set step-by-step process of the different rotations and everyone knows what's expected. As it works currently, there is a four-month store rotation, a nine-month inventory rotation and, finally, a product specialist role that lasts about five months. Right now, Staples will hire two students each year into this program. Staples keeps enrollment at a low number because of the amount of attention they give to the associates in the program.
Vault: Tell me about the rotations you went through
Egnatchik: For the store rotation, it involves training as a store associate at a specific store. I was working in Natick, Mass. Responsibilities include setting up product layouts, organizing promotional seasons on the floor and learning a lot about customer service.
On top of those normal duties, you get the opportunity to work with the general manager of the store to understand what goes on at a leadership level. The position also involves regional training, which includes visiting other stores. These are opportunities that are specific for associates in MTP.
Vault: So what comes after the store rotation?
Egnatchik: Once the store rotation ends, you go to work at the home office in Framingham, Mass., where you work full time on an inventory rotation. You work with an inventory team -- an inventory manager and a planner. Your responsibilities include placing orders for the product, making sure that for your particular categories that all the stores are in-stock. You also ensure you are ready for ads and promotional seasons. You are responsible for following up with product transitions and taking care of store requests.
Vault: So you're shipping actually to the stores or to distribution centers? Egnatchik: Both. You get product shipped to distribution centers, and then from there you use a system that allocates product to each store. In this [inventory] capacity, we're using various systems that we're extensively trained on. During this rotation, I worked in the ink category for a few months and then transitioned over to office supplies where I managed Avery during our busy back-to-school season.
Vault: And then you mentioned there's a product specialist rotation?
Egnatchik: During this rotation, you are working more closely with the buyer to assist them with their job function. For example, you determine your category's promotional displays, analyze pricing, work with vendors to figure out what new merchandise is available. You get to experience the buying capacity in a highly dynamic role.
Vault: So where are you now?
Egnatchik: I'm graduated from the program and am a product specialist. I'm working for a buyer in computer accessories and media.
Vault: Was that something that you decided at the end of the program or at the beginning?
Egnatchik: The participants are able to choose which path they will follow at the end of the program, so you are able to experience the different job functions and see what works for you.
Vault: Did you feel that the rotations mostly gave you a breadth and diversity of experience, or did you feel like they built upon each other?
Egnatchik: The rotations definitely built upon my prior experiences. Starting at the store level, you get a chance to learn the product, the customer base, and the various advertising and promotions. The inventory level gives you a chance to see what it takes to get the product to the store. In the product specialist role, you get to see what it takes to choose the product and have it merchandised in the store.
The rotations themselves are in the most effective order possible. Staples has made changes each year that have significantly improved the program. When I started, we spent six months in the store, and it has been reduced to four months. Our management teams certainly listened to what I and others had to say -- the time the individuals are in the rotations now is at an optimum time. It's long enough to get exposure and understanding, but fast-paced enough so that you're learning something new.
Vault: What kind of training is there that's outside of on-the-job training?
Egnatchik: There are two different types of training that MTP participants go through. First, there are probably 15 courses that are required for the MTP individuals. These cover categories from pricing to negotiation skills to supply chain logistics. That training has been opened up to other associates [in Staples' Framingham headquarters], but it is required for Merchandise Training Associates.
The courses are taught by specialists in the area, so a senior leader or manager from each of the respective departments leads the session. The courses are two to four hours and they give you the behind-the-scenes looks at what goes on for those departments as a daily basis. You can understand their challenges and responsibilities, which makes it easier to work with these departments every day.
Vault: What's the other type of training?
Egnatchik: The other piece of training is a mentor relationship where you work with someone at the director level. You and your mentor meet monthly to establish challenges, exciting things you've learned, and how your progress is going along the way. It was incredibly helpful, because the mentors have been with the company for a long period of time. He/she can connect you with other individuals in the company to explore other departments, talk through challenges, and are very supportive and encouraging of your role at Staples.
Vault: Given that you weren't looking specifically for a position in the retail industry, do you think now this is where you'd like to be?
Egnatchik: Right now I'm in a great spot, because I'm able to directly impact our company via buying opportunities, advertising decisions, and looking out for future products. There are some aspects that are 100 percent marketing, and there some aspects, like making sure you're beating last year's numbers, that are 100 percent finance. It's business all the way and it's been a great experience for me.