In this ‘Five Minutes With…..’ profile, we take a look at the world of Barnes & Noble College buyer, Lisa Loughan. Celebrating 15 years with Barnes & Noble College this summer, Lisa is the Merchandise Manager for the company’s Licensed Apparel lines and explains the appeal of the current athleisure trend, the value of nutrition and her appetite for school supplies.
What was your first job?
My first tax-paying job, outside of babysitting and mowing lawns, was at the Kentucky Shoppe, selling University of Kentucky Wildcat apparel and gifts at our local mall. I had to take the trolley to get to and from work until I got my driver’s license — and I experienced my first “hot market” event when the UK won the national basketball championship against Utah in 1998 – the line to purchase a t-shirt went outside the mall!
How do you describe your current role at Barnes & Noble College?
I started in the stores as a General Merchandise Manager, and moved to the home office ten years ago as an apparel buyer. I now manage our licensed apparel lines. It’s a very exciting time to be in this industry. Our product selection really reflects the current athleisure fashion trend. Our students want to wear comfortable, yet stylish clothes to class — that can also take them to the gym or out with friends.
What are you working on right now?
We have so many exciting and challenging projects going on right now. We’re driven by the needs and preferences of our customers, so we’re investing in more robust systems and programs. For example, we’ll be expanding and improving our long-running private label women’s brand, Red Shirt, and developing a sizeable new athleisure extension of that brand. We’re also creating and implementing our new buying system, which will help our stores improve stocking and purchasing, while also improving our efficiencies with our vendor partners. This means that we can offer our customers exactly what they want and deliver it exceptionally fast.
For all the diversity in our campus partners, do you find any similarities in the kinds of general merchandise offerings they’re looking for?
It all comes down to the right product at the right time, in the right color with the right school logo. As our stores prepare for graduations, summer orientations, back-to-school, athletic events, homecoming, and the holidays, the product mix and customer requests change when it comes to apparel. We focus on research and market trends to guide our product assortment, materials and the brands that we offer, and we do a great job of balancing our centralized buying with the specific product purchasing needs of our local campuses.
What do you think is the most significant thing we’re learning about students (and parents and alumni) in their shopping habits, and how does that change how we buy, merchandise, and promote the products we sell in our stores?
Demand for merchandise can happen quickly, particularly for our student demographic, so whether it’s being ahead of an emerging fashion trend or reacting to a hot market situation, our vendors are helping us to read those trends and react in a timely manner. You have to know what your customers want and be able to deliver that merchandise to our stores and our online websites quickly.
What characteristics do you find most prevalent in Barnes & Noble College people?
We really are a family. There is a reason the home office is referred to as the “home office” and not as “corporate.” Every employee treats his/her job like it’s his/her own company. The passion and commitment is admirable!
Where do you think the biggest opportunities lie for Barnes & Noble College in the future?
I am always fascinated with the educational services and products our company brings to our collegiate partners. As college costs continue to rise, we will continue to be a valuable partner on the campuses we serve — and merchandise will create not only an important revenue source for the school, but also offer students the opportunity to celebrate their school pride in a fashionable and affordable way.
Most valuable thing you’ve learned from working at Barnes & Noble College?
I have grown up with this company and learned from some amazing mentors. To work with and for some of the best people in the industry has been an amazing experience. Joel Friedman, our Chief Merchandising Officer, has been at the forefront of corporate responsibility, creating our company’s Code of Conduct program and investing time and energy in companies like Alta Gracia, that pay their workers a living wage. He is personally passionate about business ethics and fair labor practices and instills that same passion in his team. That’s important to me.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
I started college as a biology major, intending to become a chiropractor. I have always been interested in overall wellness, and often thought about going back to school to become a nutritionist. After trying a vegan diet for several years, I became very interested in the science behind food as medicine.
What’s your most indispensable/favorite fashion item or accessory?
My biggest occupational hazard is wearing a really cool apparel item from one of our partner schools and running into someone who actually went to that school — and wants to talk about the campus or sports team.
Favorite part of our bookstore?
I absolutely love buying new school supplies and reading a good book in the café while enjoying a venti blond roast with a splash of cold soy!
Favorite book or book you’re currently reading?
I always have several books going at once. Right now I am reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD.
Best day at Barnes & Noble College?
Receiving a service pin at our annual trade show is an experience I cherish and look forward to. In 2017 I will receive my 15-year pin, and I can’t wait to walk across the stage!