Purchasing Managers, Buyers, and Purchasing Agents

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents are employed by wholesalers, manufacturers, institutions, and other businesses to research and procure a variety of goods and equipment for resale, further processing, or a company’s internal use. Purchasing professionals often specialize in a particular field, such as wholesale and retail, farm products, or merchandise.

The specific responsibilities of purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents vary according to their position and the nature of their business, but most purchasing professionals share a set of common duties, including researching, identifying, and evaluating vendors and suppliers; negotiating prices; ordering goods and services; soliciting bids for supply contracts; and staying up-to-date on market trends, supplies, and demand. Purchasing managers who work for wholesalers or retailers also keep track of sales activities, as items they purchase from manufacturers are resold to the public. Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents often hold a crucial position in their companies, influencing what the business produces or sells and, therefore, its profits and worth.

In smaller organizations, purchasing managers, buyers, and agents may be responsible for most of a business’ entire inventory, while in larger organizations, they will oversee procurement for a single department or a portion of the total. Agents may also purchase in teams in order to increase their business edge by pooling knowledge and resources with other buyers and managers. Most purchasing professionals rely heavily on Internet research, trade journals, conferences, and professional associations to keep a finger on the pulse of retail trends.

Generally, purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents work 40 hours per week or more, depending on production deadlines. Because the retail field is influenced by seasonal trends, managers may work longer hours during particular high-volume periods. Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents generally work in an office setting with some travel to conferences or to meet with suppliers.

Education, Training, and Essential Skills

Most employers prefer to hire individuals with a college degree in the business field and with relevant employment experience. Manufacturing firms may place more emphasis on an advanced degree in engineering, business, or economics, particularly for higher level positions. Most newly-hired purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents go through one-to-five-year training programs specific to the company they work for or are promoted from subordinate positions in sales or inventory.

Regardless of a purchasing manager’s particular job focus, all of these positions require a general set of knowledge and skills, including knowledge of relevant software and computing applications; strong research, communication, negotiation, and problem-solving skills, analytical and mathematical skills; and interest in merchandising, marketing, and market trends.

Advancement and Professional Development Opportunities

Purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents generally advance through promotion from subordinate positions in sales and inventory, from assistant purchasing or buyer positions, or by moves from similar businesses. A manager with a bachelor’s degree can earn a master’s degree in economics or business to compete for higher-level positions.

Professional development and continuing education is a must for purchasing professionals who want to stay in tune with constantly shifting retail markets. Many employers pay for or subsidize professional development for their employees, with long training periods and continuing education built in to orienting new hires. Professional and trade associations also provide certifications and credentials for purchasing professionals, including Certified Purchasing Manager (C.P.M.), Certified Purchasing Professional (CPP), Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP), Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB), Certified Public Purchasing Officer (CPPO), and Certified Professional Purchasing Manager (CPPM) designations.

Outlook and Income

Job opportunities for purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents are projected to increase by 7% over the next decade, except for those employed in the wholesale, retail, and farm products fields, where no change is projected. Demand will be strongest for professionals with strong work experience in their field, coupled with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business, engineering, economics, or applied sciences.

The median annual salary for purchasing professionals, broken down by field, is as follows: about $89,000 for purchasing managers; about $50,000 for purchasing agents and farm product buyers; about $49,000 for non-farm-related wholesaler and retail buyers; and about $54,000 for purchasing agents not working in wholesale, retail, or farm-related fields. In general, positions in aerospace, electronics, private enterprises, and the federal executive branch draw the highest salaries, while those in machinery and equipment wholesale and grocery stores earn the lowest.

In addition to health benefits, many purchasing managers, buyers, and purchasing agents enjoy additional perquisites, such as merchandise discounts and performance bonuses.