Erin Fish lives in Bentonville, AR and works in the business of fun.
As a Merchandising Director in Toys at Walmart, Fish and her team have the amazing responsibility of selecting the products for both store and digital shelves that ultimately help define birthdays, holiday celebrations and other special moments across America.
In fact, it is Walmart’s scale that makes the opportunity special to Fish. Not only do her merchandising choices impact the lives of millions of Americans, but the company’s presence in its communities does too.
“We serve so many communities in America and we can use our scale to do good in those communities,” she said. “To me, that’s where the power of Walmart comes in.”
In a recent conversation with Fairygodboss, Fish sat down to chronicle her career path to this fun, fulfilling side of merchandising — including the leadership approach that helps her achieve success as a Director. She also shared her tips for women in the industry and told us a bit more about her experience at Walmart.
How long have you been at Walmart, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been with Walmart for a little over a year and just recently became the Merchandising Director in Toys. Prior to working at Walmart, I worked for Toyota and Mattel. I started my career in the auto industry focused on customer experience design and brand management for Toyota. I then moved to the toy industry when a friend reached out to me regarding an open position at Mattel on the Walmart account.
I grew up in Arkansas and my dad did business with Walmart, so I eventually relocated to Bentonville, AR to take on the role of running an omni-focused sales team with Mattel. After nearly a decade working on brands like Barbie and Hot Wheels, I had the opportunity to join Walmart where I secured my dream job, working on the Toys Merchandising team.
What was it about Walmart that attracted you to the company?
I’ve always had a passion for Walmart and its mission. Once I started working on the Walmart account for Mattel and with the customers that Walmart serves every day, I became really passionate about creating a shopper experience for every type of shopper.
When I think about toys, I think about how we bring holidays and key milestone moments to kids. It’s a really emotional component to people’s lives. When you think about the fact that you’re helping parents plan birthdays and holidays and big milestones, it’s really an addicting category to be part of. You’re delivering more than just a physical product.
Why are you personally passionate about Merchandising?
The thing that I love about Merchandising at Walmart is that we're at a turning point in terms of how we get to drive the business forward from an omni standpoint. Consumer behavior is shifting and retail is moving so fast. Toys as a category is constantly changing and the product is always evolving. Layer that with serving customers online, which is also fast-paced — all reasons why I love working in Merchandising.
What is unique about Merchandising at Walmart? What have you been able to do here that you can’t do elsewhere?
The sheer scale of the Walmart business gives us the opportunity to bring products to life that may not otherwise see the light of day. We’re able to give opportunities to partners that may not have had them before. Our scale can drive their businesses forward. Because of our size, we have a responsibility to not only bring products to shelf, but to create good in the communities we live and work in.
One thing I’m super passionate about is the Salvation Army Angel Tree program we do every year in the Toy department which helps bring joy to over 2.6 million children in need. This year, it was integrated into our Toy Catalog and our Top Rated by Kids marketing, focused on inspiring our customers to give back in their communities during the holidays. For over 40 years now, this program has helped provide new clothing and toys to millions of children and families in need. To me, that’s where the power of Walmart comes in. We are a part of every community in America and we can use our scale to do good in those communities. That’s really a huge part of why I decided to work at Walmart.
What are the keys to success in Merchandising at Walmart?
Have a strategy. It’s really important to set a strategy — set goals — and make those your north star.
You have to take risks. You're going to win some and you’re going to lose some. In the Toy category specifically, sometimes we can call the ‘winners’ from 10 miles away and they’re absolutely not winners. That’s part of the fun. You have to take a gamble and trust your instincts.
Collaboration and partnership. That goes across your supplier base, your support team, your site team and your stores. To be a good merchant, you need to be connected to the people who are going to help you be successful. I always say to my team: “There’s no I, it’s We.” The “we” is what’s going to make a merchant successful.
Walk us through your day-to-day work life. What motivates you most?
Day-to-day our team is always analyzing different aspects of the business. We assess our performance against the industry and partner with suppliers to plan ways to grow and disrupt the marketplace.
Right now, we are in the middle of planning Christmas 2021. We’re always working on a number of projects that span across three or more seasons at any given time.
Tell me a little about your leadership style and what strategies you’ve found most effective?
As leaders, it’s our job to understand what gets people up in the morning and what gets them excited, then align their strengths to let them shine.
From a leadership-style perspective, especially having become a leader through my past roles, I believe that it’s my job to get the members of my team to be my boss someday. I come from a servant leadership perspective of guiding and empowering. I think it’s really important to recognize their efforts and celebrate them.
While I’m proud to say that I’m still very close to everyone who has worked for me, I can confidently say that in my 22-year career, this is the best team I’ve ever had. They’re all rock stars and that’s so rare to find.
Who has been an influential leader in your career and why?
At Walmart, it is Scott McCall, Chief Merchandising Officer. I really value Scott’s approach to leadership. He listens a lot and really lets his people be empowered and paint their own future.
What would you tell someone who was considering a career at Walmart?
I think a lot of people might have preconceived notions about Walmart purely because of our scale. If you’re interested in an owner-operator mentality, this is the place to be, especially right now. We’re all learning and changing together, and that’s one thing that’s constant at Walmart: change. It’s amazing how fast evolution happens here.
I have an immense amount of respect for our leadership and the changes they’ve been able to make within the past nine months. It reinforces my decision to join Walmart. Walmart seems big but it doesn’t act big, and the culture that the company was founded on is still very much alive today.
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