Retail as a Career

Discussion
Apr 29, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A fine art print entitled Born for Retail found on the StoryPeople Web site says: “Has always had the soul of an artist, but the instincts of an attack dog, so of course
he went into retail.”

It may very well be that great retailers are various parts attack dog and artist, but many with these particular personal qualities have skipped retailing as a career in the
past because of odd hours, low pay, sickly benefit programs and a lack of prestige.

Some companies, reports The Boston Globe, are trying to change the negatives many associate with retailing by paying better and professionalizing the workforce and workplace.

James Dion, principal of Dionco Inc., a firm that analyzes retail trends in retail, says the changes are simply a matter of smart business. “Employee turnover is a huge hidden
expense that some smart retailers are discovering can be not only controlled but used to make sales better,” he said.

Bart Weitz, the executive director of the Center for Retailing Education & Research at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business, said, “The key characteristic
that tends to divide higher compensation retailers from lower compensation retailers is the level of customer service.”

According to Mr. Dion, The Container Store and Crate & Barrel have taken this approach for years while others, such as Best Buy, are now getting with the program.

Moderator’s Comment: What do you think are the biggest impediments to college graduates following retail as a career? Is this something retailers should
actively address or is it just retailing and that is what it will always be?

George Anderson – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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19 Comments on "Retail as a Career"


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Carol Spieckerman
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

I agree with Len and will add that retail also has not been a great launching pad to other opportunities, particularly if you start at the store level. Buyers used to spend tons of time in the stores or be brought to the corporate office FROM the stores (how J.C. Penney was built). Now, if you start in the stores, chances are you’ll stay there and that just doesn’t appeal to everyone. Creatives could be better off throwing those long hours into assisting at a hair salon, for example (with the promise of having one’s own station/business eventually).

Tim Proctor
Guest
Tim Proctor
15 years 9 months ago
Ditto to all of you who feel retail is not the way to go. I’ve been in the business for over 20 years now, most of those years with one of the mid majors of retail. I worked there, part-time, stocking shelves, while I put myself through college. I was offered a position in the executive training program the day after I graduated. I spent 18 months as a department manager and I had a great time. I then worked my way up the ranks to Assoc. Buyer, Buyer, DSM, Store Manager, etc. During this time, I saw a significant change in how people shopped, and how senior management reacted to it. At that point, retail entered the “churn and burn” management era, and that’s when mid-level managers started finding something better to do and the college recruits avoided retail like the plague. Hence, the decline in quality entry level managers. The money’s good up front, but the raises are horrible, and the hours rival some first year medical residents. Until retailers consider the quality… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 9 months ago

What are the chances that a college student can shop in a supermarket and spot an employee they’d want to emulate? Slim and none, and Slim just left the room.

I worked in and managed food stores as a student, and that was enough for me. Having a degree, in my mind, put that experience solidly in my rearview mirror.

Here’s another way to attract highly-motivated individuals to retail careers: Copy the armed forces. Military recruiters regularly attract very smart volunteers without college educations. Our armed forces include thousands of under-educated born leaders who are not afraid of hard work, responsibility, low pay, and bullets.

Forget trying to attract college graduates. Go get some vets.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 9 months ago

There’s a lot of truth to the “instant gratification” theory of today’s college grads, but I think a large chunk of them have worked a retail job at some point before graduation, and the experience probably left them more likely to want to work in a coal mine!

As pointed out above, working your way up in retail isn’t a picnic. As we’ve all said many times, better employee training and emphasis on customer service are critical. Yet so many retail stores rely on part-time, young workers, and they treat them as temporary resources. If retail stores had more programs to identify promising young workers, give them better training, and make their after-school and summer job experiences more like an internship for a future in retail, they might find some of that talent returning after graduation from college for careers.

Tony Orlando
Guest
15 years 9 months ago
I’m the third generation of store owners, and most definitely the last. I wouldn’t wish this business on my 2 boys for all the tea in China. I’ve seen changes happen each year that only benefit Wal-mart and Costco. We are treated like [dirt] by our wholesaler, and vendors show up only if they feel like it, any time of the day. Hard work never scared me, and my employees do a great job. I pay them as well as I can, but if they had any college degree, they would be out of here. The hours are horrible, the bottom line keeps shrinking, and the new Wal-Mart Supercenter is making my life miserable. I’m not complaining; I’m telling you the facts. If any young hustler out of school is reading this, run for the hills. We can’t afford to pay you and weekends working are a must. I plan on staying in this ’til, hopefully, I can retire, but if I hit the lottery tomorrow, I’m gone golfing. I take pride in my business,… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 9 months ago
In a world where perception is everything, retail just doesn’t rate very high on any scale I can think of. It ain’t glamorous, it ain’t exciting and it ain’t creative. It doesn’t feel worthwhile, it doesn’t pay well and it demands anti-social hours. Stores are great places to be if you want to work part time either as a teenager, a wife looking to supplement husband’s salary and get out of the house without having to do anything too mentally challenging or even early retiree wanting some spare cash for not too much effort. But a career? I don’t think so. For several years I chaired an Education Business Partnership and ran a variety of annual careers events. Although some retailers sent employees to participate in the exercises and mock interviews, as well as speaking at careers conventions on future prospects, I can’t remember any of the teenagers showing a great deal of interest. Whatever ideals and daydreams they had for their careers, not once was retail ever mentioned. How to change this? Not entirely… Read more »
Timothy OToole
Guest
Timothy OToole
15 years 9 months ago

Let’s face it. As physically demanding as store retail can be, it is not exactly rocket science. There is a reason that people are stocking shelves and ringing cash registers while others are hiring, firing, and balancing P&L statements. I think the biggest thing that retailers can do is stop the hemorrhaging of their management staff by increasing the number of managers in the stores in order to reduce burnout, increase salaries to entice new management and compel those already employed to stay. Increase training through innovation so that employees feel that they are learning new ideas, concepts, and staying mentally fresh.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 9 months ago

Three careers to my life have come,

Newspapers, retailing, consulting,

All have their values and rewards

But retail’s hours are most revolting.

People have chosen to watch TV news

So newspapers have lost their glamour.

The pace is fast, the pay is slow

And you’re always under the hammer.

It’s fun to dance the consultant’s role,

Where bucks and time demands are fair,

To play the flutes and listen to lutes,

It makes other careers hard to compare.

Ah! A career in the retailing world,

Though prestige is low and hours tall,

Creates joy by being among all people:

Sweet reward for those who chose that call.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
15 years 9 months ago

I get a kick out of the term employees or recent graduates. The reason these “kids” don’t want to get into retail is simple – they have been brought up in the instant gratification society and have been spoiled (for the most part) their entire lives. The thought of actually starting at the bottom and working yourself up is completely foreign to them. They want glitz and glamour, and the retail industry provides none of that.

It is very true that the retail industry as a whole promotes itself about as well as the National Hockey League did, and really needs to change their perception in the workplace if they want to attract the “best and the brightest.”

Herb Sorensen
Guest
15 years 9 months ago

Ditto for the restaurant business (which is retail, too, right?). I’ve worked in and around these businesses for 40 years and have nothing but the greatest respect for the hard work and dedication I have observed by the staff (and a few stinkers. :>). But what is, is.

I expect that as technology and knowledge work begins to play a larger role, not much is going to change. And even then I’m not sure what will change on the selling floor.

Elly Valas
Guest
Elly Valas
15 years 9 months ago

My parents and grandparents were retailers but, even so, I never thought I’d join the retail ranks. I didn’t get a business degree, I didn’t go to FIT and I was good in math and science.

I ended up in retail after I realized how much I hated the management training program in commercial banking.

I worked in another family business for years until I decided to go back to my Dad’s company where I would eventually own a piece of the rock.

Although my Dad loved his job, it never dawned on him to tell any of us that retailing was a rewarding career. My brother and I ended up there quite accidentally.

NRF is finally working to promote retailing as a career. We need to do a better job of spreading the word. And yes, as with any career, we need to offer full time opportunities with competitive benefits if we want to attract real talent.

Jean Pillet
Guest
Jean Pillet
15 years 9 months ago
I believe Retail as a Career is not something that Retailers do a good job promoting. Yes, there are companies who may do it better, such as a Wegmans, Nordstrom and through some people themes that Wal-Mart runs on TV, but for the most part young people see themselves through their friends and themselves in entry-level positions “forever.” The war stories of late hours and weekend work is just not appealing to kids looking for the lifestyle of the rich and famous. The reality is that many will get their start in retailing, but it’s only a temporary stop “while I move onto something better.” I believe that one strategy would be to have a National Retail Week to be celebrated by all retailers. One related activity would be for retailers to promote retail careers through all the media available and, where possible, to make retail managers and executives available to discuss careers in Retailing. This could be done for the customers who shop the retail shops during this period as well as a related… Read more »
Laurie Cozart
Guest
Laurie Cozart
15 years 9 months ago

Having a career in retail is not easy. There are long hours, working nights, weekends and holidays that keep employees away from their families. Today’s employees want more control over their hours and their life. I believe that some core values are changing in employees today. Most current college graduates were latch key kids. Both parents worked. These folks recognize the importance of being with their children and are committed to balancing their work and life. Retailers need to come up with some creative scheduling ideas that will make their companies seem more attractive to these college grads.

Tom Zatina
Guest
Tom Zatina
15 years 9 months ago

Those seeking careers are also seeking some level of respect, accomplishment, enjoyment, prestige and reward. The supermarket industry has not done a particularly good job of convincing people that these goals can be reached. And until this becomes a priority, the industry will continue to struggle in attracting the best and the brightest. I do think that perhaps a part of the answer lies in the empowerment concept discussed in an earlier thread.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 9 months ago

In general, retailing has to show a career path with appropriate salary advances to future college grads, and a training program that leads them into desired areas.
Since marketing and brand management are becoming part of retailing, especially in the grocery business, this may be a draw.

The hours worked in retailing versus being with a food company is about the same, in today’s world. The more upscale the retailer, the better salary and marketing opportunities arise! Hmmmmmmm

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 9 months ago

The supermarket industry has, by and large, failed to convince college grads that it is a real career path and there is life beyond packing out the frozen food case or slicing baloney. A huge mistake in not getting the message across that food retailing is a huge opportunity. Where else, after a few years experience, can you have the opportunity to be responsible for a store — a multi-million dollar operation?

The problem is also that retailing is not an easy business. You work nights, weekends and holidays. Other businesses are far more attractive. And for those with a creative bent, real merchandising is becoming a thing of the past, replaced by rigid planograms from headquarters. This is true of the department store and specialty store business as well.

Bottom line — the industry needs to become more creative in recruiting and getting a positive message out there.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 9 months ago
When I was graduating from college, I interviewed with several retailers. They all told the same story about how you start out as a manager trainee at a humiliating low rate of pay. Then it takes 7-10 years to become manager of your own store. Then, maybe, if you are lucky, you will be promoted to the ivory tower. Well I, like everybody else, wanted to start out in the ivory tower. I had to start out at store level with one company but finally conned my way into the corporate office of another company a year later. I can tell you from experience that working in the stores is no picnic and it would be insane for a motivated individual to want to do it for 10 years. Working 50 hours a week and not much to show for it wasn’t much fun. Kicking back in an air conditioned office, working 40 hours, and making more money is a lot less stressing. Perhaps, if I have been aware that companies like Publix or Wegmans… Read more »
Imran Khan
Guest
Imran Khan
15 years 9 months ago

Retail as a career demands a lot of passion. One should be well prepared before jumping into the Retail Ocean. I agree with you guys that there will be long working hours, no weekend holidays, but if you’re passionate about something, you sure will do good in that field/sector. I am passionate (e.g. Sam Walton) about this sector and I sure am prepared to take a plunge in to this huge ocean…

Nelson Lichtenstein
Guest
Nelson Lichtenstein
15 years 7 months ago
Gentlemen/women: I’m an historian of retailing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I read with great interest your generally doleful comments on retailing as a career for college grads. Hard work, modest pay, and a short career ladder sum up a lot of the problems. So from where do the big retailers, especially Wal-Mart etc., recruit their assistant managers? Are any of you familiar with Students in Free Enterprise, which was practically founded by Wal-Mart and which is now backed by Walgreens, Radio Shack and many vendors? SIFE claims almost a thousand college chapters in the U.S. and almost as many abroad. A Wall Street Journal article of two years ago claimed that Wal-Mart recruited 35% of its management trainees from Students in Free Enterprise. SIFE does not claim that its student members will get rich, rather that they are advancing “free enterprise service,” that they are “changing the world.” And SIFE has large rallies/conventions each year in Kansas City where retailers recruit new college grads. Do any of you in the business know… Read more »
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