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Angie Wieck, Published August 11 2013

It's my job: Getting in the MODE to shop

FARGO – Getting paid to shop sounds like a dream come true for many women.

Leah Hagen says she never envisioned being a professional buyer when she set out to study art education at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

While in college, she took a part-time job with MODE, a designer outlet store in downtown Fargo, as it was opening in 2007.

She was there from day one when the first truck of merchandise arrived and has been with the company ever since.

MODE eventually became a franchise in 2011, and stores have opened in Bismarck, Grand Forks and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Hagen now works as lead buyer and secures the merchandise for all four locations.

How did you become a buyer?

The first MODE opened in 2007. It was a new store, a new concept in town, so we all just worked as a team. Then, I managed the MODE store. I did a little bit of buying, and now I’ve progressed with the company to this position. Because I started at the bottom and they have such a unique concept, it’s been great to work to the top with the original team. … It’s exciting because now MODE is becoming a brand, not just a boutique.

Can you explain what you do?

At MODE, we buy designer closeouts and overstock. Every designer produces too much, so we go in and buy the overstock (at a reduced price).

It’s a unique part of the apparel industry. We contact designers and build relationships with them. It’s my job to keep up those relationships and get great deals.

How do you decide what to buy?

As a buyer, you have to buy what sells, not what you like. I use a lot of different tools. I use style boards so if we have a best seller, we keep getting that style again. I also use Excel spreadsheets to track what has sold.

Because we buy overstock, our designers change a lot. Our brands are constantly changing, but our prices are not. We always have $40 jeans, $9.99 necklaces, $14 scarves, $24 shirts and $14.99 shirts. Quality is something that’s really big, too.

Do you have a favorite designer?

Some of my favorites would be James Jeans and Sinclair. MODE is trademarked as “Home of the $40 designer jean,” so my denim relationships are a huge part of my job.

What makes you a good buyer?

The negotiating part is my favorite. I think being from North Dakota, and I’m not a fashionista, but I can negotiate like no other to get those great deals for the MODE stores. I think so many of us grew up conservative with our money. I mean, I did. We always shopped off the clearance racks when we were little. My mom never bought us full-price clothes, ever.

Do you have a secret for getting a good deal?

Just stick to your guns and be confident. You also need to be quick and to act on the deal when you see it.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501