Why Young People Should Opt for a Retail Career

Discussion
Jan 26, 2009

By Bernice Hurst, Managing
Partner, Fine Food Network

In an effort to look
at the bright side of life, anyone managing to launch a retail career nowadays
will have the excitement of unsurpassed opportunities to persuade shoppers
to shop. If they can find a job in the first place, that is.

The challenges partially
explain why “over half of career advisers still
see retail as a good sector for young people to work in,” according
to new research commissioned by Skillsmart Retail and reported in Specialty
Food Magazine
.
According to the survey, despite the recession, 51 percent of career advisors
considered retail to be a better place for young people to work in than
five years ago, when the economy was booming.

The magazine’s Raphael
Giacardi says that the study, Quantifying Perceptions of a Career in
Retail
, shows that only 11 percent of the 406 professionals surveyed
thought the sector had become a worse career prospect than five years ago,
while a quarter identified no change between 2003 and 2008.

Amongst the reasons cited
for improvement were “increased opportunity and career structure,
wider availability of training and qualifications, and better pay (linked
to the introduction of the minimum wage.”

The
report showed that retail comes out on top when compared to the hospitality
and finance and banking sectors in the development of useful workplace
skills, provision of opportunities for employees of all ages and the
prospect of being given responsibility at an early stage.

Skillsmart Retail’s chief
executive, Anne Seaman, reminded the magazine, “Career advisers are
very influential in helping young people make choices about jobs in different
sectors. Because of this, it is good to know that they believe retail is
a better place to work now than in 2003 – in spite of the current
financial climate.”

Discussion question:
What do you think of retail as a career? In what ways can the retail
industry improve how it recruits talent?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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22 Comments on "Why Young People Should Opt for a Retail Career"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Most young folks’ first taste of retailing isn’t pleasurable. Petty bosses, annoying shoppers, dull repetition, and low morale from their fellow workers who quit quickly. Not a warm welcome. Being a step up from fast food isn’t a great position. Ask most retailers if they want their kids to be career retailers. See how many say yes. My experience: very few.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 3 months ago

Retail is a great career choice for those that really enjoy working with people and especially customers. I have seen many incredible careers evolve from individuals starting out as cashiers and merchandisers. The one thing those companies had in common was a strong leadership base and a huge vault of training resources that are available to everyone. Those companies also had great lines of communications and are not afraid to share information, good or bad, with staff.

Retail is easy to get into and easy to move up. Hard work does really pay off and brands that are serious about their people have the best recruitment rates and lower turnover.

John Lofstock
Guest
John Lofstock
13 years 3 months ago
While retail bankruptcies tend to dominate the news, there are many, many great chains that offer competitive pay, great training and ample room for advancement. In the convenience store industry, chains like QuikTrip, Wawa, Sheetz and Open Pantry enjoy wonderful reputations as an “employer of choice,” which should be lauded given how difficult historically it has been for c-store retailers to fill open positions. With unemployment rising, I would expect more people to turn to retail for their next job opportunity, and this could have long-term positive and negative effects. On the positive, there is an influx of good, new job candidates eager to get back on their feet and support themselves and their families. On the negative, these same folks might bolt as soon as a new opportunity presents itself. This would be a big financial hit for stores, not only from the cost of training a new employee, but because customer service could suffer. Either way, I think there is a great opportunity now for retailers to attract top talent and showcase themselves… Read more »
Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
13 years 3 months ago
Having started my career with Macy’s and their Executive Training Program, I remain strongly biased in favor of such training, whether someone wants a long-term career in the industry or not. Macy’s program was considered “the Harvard of Retailing” and there were a number of things we all learned that are invaluable in terms of management and of course highly leveragable for most all service industries. Some examples include: – The importance of knowing, serving and being relevant to customers. – Knowing the numbers and managing your business accordingly. – Understanding the Pareto principle and that key items and best sellers can have significant impact. – Understanding and dealing with competitors. – Flexibility. – The value of merchandising and being able to tell stores with retail space. – Negotiating (e.g., with buyers, senior merchants and suppliers. Indeed more and more industries have acted and done “retail” business over the last few years, including financial services, telecom, travel and even healthcare. In our work we find that core retailing principles are applicable to an ever wider… Read more »
Anne Howe
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

I agree with Ryan on the one-stop career point. The other issue I have with retail careers is that so much old school thinking pervades the industry, which is a blocker to shopper-based thinking that young grads could indeed bring to the business.

Smart, innovative thinkers will not stay long in a business that responds to their new thinking with reasons why new ideas can’t work. Even retail consultants I know who are some of the best and brightest undergrads and B school grads get frustrated by this. We need a commitment to “yes and” thinking, so ideas can be built and tried by management that is willing to take risks and invest in a future that looks different than the past.

Kevin Graff
Guest
13 years 3 months ago
With every passing year, retail becomes a better and more viable career. The retail sector is now as sophisticated as any in the economy. Yes, there are those retailers who would be terrible to work for, but there are many in other sectors as well. Consider how ‘retail’ can take an individual with sometimes only a high school or partial post secondary degree into the fold as a sales person, and start them at around $20,000. Not a king’s fortune, but wait. Should that person be bright, and hard working, they quickly rise in the ranks, faster than in any other sector. That $20,000 can become $30,000 in a year, and then $50,000 to $80,000 in the next 2 to 5 years. Retail represents for many, not all, a fast track to a viable and rewarding career. Associations like The Retail Council of Canada (www.retailcouncil.org) do a great job of promoting and supporting retail as a career through scholarship programs and education initiatives. I’m proud to work in the retail sector, and encourage as many… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Retailing as a career still has some promise, but the idea of staying with an individual retailer for one’s entire career probably isn’t as realistic as it was even 10 years ago. We may have left the era when someone had deep expertise in a single retail approach and entered a period when a more “professional,” i.e., objective, approach to retailing will become the cornerstone for success.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
13 years 3 months ago

With all of the retail consolidation taking place, and likely to continue far beyond the current downturn, I don’t see retail as a career so much as an entrepreneurial calling. The exciting opportunities are going to be in small, tightly focused entrepreneurial retailers, where passion and smarts, long hours and a can-do bootstrapping mentality are the ingredients for breakthrough success.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Why should anyone want to go in to retailing?

Yes it is going to be easier to find some great people out there this year and maybe next and the smart companies, in what ever industry, are going to go out there and grab them. They will not have a hiring freeze when it comes to finding and hiring people with talent. Those people they hire with talent are going to make those companies great.

It was interesting to read the post and see those great companies noted. Also look at Fortune Magazine’s top 100 best companies to work for; there are some great retailers listed there.

But on the whole, most retailers do not stack up. How many of them have figured out how to help employees get what they want so they will help us get what we want?

Final note: Retail is better than Hospitality. Good comparison industry with over 150% turnover. Nice to be better than something that is considered the worst.

James Tenser
Guest
13 years 3 months ago
I’d like to echo Dr. Weitz’s comments and put in a plug for my former colleagues and teachers at the University of Arizona’s Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing, which is focused on developing the next generation of retail leaders. There are similar centers at Texas A&M, University of Arkansas and other fine institutions that enjoy committed financial support from major retail firms. Arizona for example, currently enjoys support from Macy’s, JCPenney, CVS, Dillards, the Gap, Kohl’s, Neiman Marcus, Office Depot, PetSmart, Walgreens and Walmart, among others. The reason for their investment is enlightened self-interest: These companies have a huge appetite for talent–especially in the store and regional management ranks. They need qualified, college educated people who are capable of growing professionally to manage multi-million dollar business units or geographies. So is there a solid career track in retail? Absolutely yes. But working your way up from bag boy is more and more an unlikely path to a top management position. Today’s retail leaders begin with a sound university education that includes marketing, general business,… Read more »
George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
13 years 3 months ago

I started my life out as a salesperson in a store and spent 25 years as a manager and ultimately, owner. For anyone who wants a great career, retailing can be one of the most satisfying and financially rewarding. Like anything worth doing, it takes hard work and dedication. I have long believed our industry has done a generally poor job of creating interest in a retail career for young people.

Several times in recent years I’ve had the opportunity to speak to college students. I always ask how many in the audience are looking to have a career in retailing. Very few, if any of the students raise their hands. Even though our industry lost thousands of jobs last year there are still tremendous opportunities for smart, hard-working, dedicated young people in our industry. Those of us working in the industry just have to do a better job of letting young people know about those opportunities.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
13 years 3 months ago

With jobs becoming increasingly scarce, those grads that do find work in retail will gain valuable lessons in hard work, paying your dues, and learning a business from the ground up. Ten years ago, a lot of kids probably thought those were antiquated concepts–an internet startup and instant wealth were more likely their touchstones for a successful career. But this year’s graduating class may be in for a return to basic career principles, and that’s not such a bad thing at all.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
13 years 3 months ago

Retail is ripe and ready for an infusion of new talent, particularly in the top ranks. Can the current retail blood bath be blamed solely on the economy? Surely not when most of the current retail leadership has been on the scene for decades, moving on to the next gig when various waves of consolidation or dissolution hit. I’ve become quite passionate about building the retail leaders of tomorrow out of the 20 and 30-somethings who are forced to operate in the fringes while “veterans” selectively tap their knowledge and grasp of social media, mobile marketing and other emerging media (though rarely beyond their comfort zones). No wonder the results have been fragmented and incoherent! Blame the messenger.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Over the last 15 years, the demands of retailing managerial positions have becoming increasing more sophisticated and demanding with the use of new technology, category management, and data analysis requirements. These positions are demanding and lucrative. However, college students often view retail positions as the “bagger,” “clerk,” and “cashier” part time positions they applied for at 16! Those are not the managerial positions available for college graduates. However, the college students don’t know what positions are available, what skills are required, and what career paths are possible.

As Bart Weitz described at his university, California State University San Marcos also has a program preparing students for positions at all points in the supply chain, including retail.

Barton A. Weitz
Guest
Barton A. Weitz
13 years 3 months ago
The retail industry has done a terrible job of marketing retailing careers to college students. Many students–and their parents–think that retailing jobs are low-paid with long working hours. They equate retail jobs with the sales associates they see in stores, rather than the managers responsible for running a complex business. However, retailing is a high-tech global industry, offering challenging and rewarding careers for college students–rewarding both intrinsically and financially. Students entering retail management training programs have profit and loss responsibility and the opportunity to manage people at a very young age. Promotions and increased responsibilities and compensation are typically based on objective versus subjective performance indicators. The retail industry needs to do a better job of attracting the “best and brightest” college graduates. In the future, demand for talented managers will exceed supply with the impeding retirement of a large Baby Boomer cohort of retail managers. In addition, the complexity of retail management decisions is increasing. Merchandise managers are using analytical tools to make sure the right merchandise is in the right place at the… Read more »
Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
13 years 3 months ago
Let’s get real here. It’s been a while since retailing was the career of choice and not the last resort. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be, simply that’s the way it is and any counselor or advisor that tells you different is a liar, a toadie for some placement agency or just plain stupid. First of all retail–the entire gamut–is way overstored in the U.S. This may be good for finding a job when times are good. But when economic reality strikes, like it is now, companies cut back and learn to do more with less. This means fewer opportunities for advancement and that entry level position becomes a long-term, low paying drudge service job limited to folding tee shirts, filling coffee cups and stocking shelves. There is honor in all work, but this is not aspirational. And despite protestations of some in retail, I see little in the way of real career training or companies creating a career path for employees. Of course, employees who want the career in retail–which can… Read more »
Ben Ball
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

Retail used to be offered up as a “good career for young people” because it was easy to find a job in retail. Not so much anymore. As my own and other recent marketing grads are finding, the retail environment is as tough as any other right now, at least for BAs. But in a way, that is good news for the industry. At least part of the reason retail is no longer a “sure bet” career starter is that the jobs have become more desirable to young professionals. Certainly there is still some of that “you’ll have to dust the shelves for the first year…” mentality out there. But my own grad’s experience is more “tell me about your training in market research and consumer insights.” There are some great opportunities developing out there–just wish there were more of them for the recent grads’ sake.

Dick Seesel
Guest
13 years 3 months ago

I am a 30-year veteran of the retail industry, grew up in the business, and teach a college-level class each spring about retailing management. (This year’s class starts today, in fact.) One of my challenges every year is to stimulate some interest on the part of my students in a retailing career. Most of them are marketing majors who hadn’t considered this option, and I’m glad to say that I’ve triggered some inquiries every year.

This year will be a particular challenge: Given the number of well-known retailers who are folding their tents, is there any more job security in retailing than in other professions? I’d make the case that you should focus on the strength of the company more than the particular industry. If you go to work for a retailer who has managed its business strategically and its finances wisely, you are getting in on the “ground floor” of an exciting and relevant business.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 3 months ago

Okay, you got me. For a minute there I thought this article was a legitimate piece of journalism. After all, how could any career advisor recommend someone work in an industry that hasn’t seen things this bad in generations? If you ask me, anyone looking for a job in retail right now would have a tough time finding a job at all. And forget about stability.

I wonder how any of these career advisors are recommending people go into the auto industry as well?

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 3 months ago
When I was in college 30 years ago, several retailers would come to campus looking for warm bodies. Of all the companies recruiting, retailers had the lowest salaries and therefore ended up with the worst candidates. Most notable were FW Woolworth, Kmart, Kroger, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and an onslaught of long-gone regionals. If I had only known about Publix, Wegmans, Hy-Vee, or HEB, I would have been more aggressive in seeking a career in retail. I speak to college students today and I tell them to look beyond the horizon for jobs in retail. There are some excellent companies to work for that are known for retaining employees. There are privately held regional grocers, many of which are my clients, where I leave each meeting feeling encouraged and motivated. If I had known what I know now about them, I’d be fanatically trying to get a job with them if I was a younger person. While retail isn’t the highest paying job, I have never heard of anyone retiring poor from Publix, Hy-Vee, Wegmans, or… Read more »
Mark Burr
Guest
13 years 3 months ago
Why should young people make retailing a choice when a large percentage of retailers don’t focus on making their business the job of choice for anyone, let alone young people? While that sounds like a real slam against retailers, take a look at the recent Forbes list of the best companies to work for. As a percentage of choices, how many were retailers? Sure, there were some very good retailers on the list. We know who they are, however, does the industry as a whole even consider it to be a place for a ‘career’? It doesn’t. In one media story on the Forbes list that I saw over the weekend, there was a very good commentary on retailing, what’s available and why it’s currently a good choice. Interestingly enough, one of the retailers mentioned on the list was shown to have some 2,000 jobs/positions available. I thought to myself, if it is true that it’s such a great place, why don’t they have a waiting list instead of 2,000 positions going wanting? For quite… Read more »
Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
13 years 3 months ago
I have been a retailer for over 25 years and have loved my career and hope to remain a retailer for years to come. Why? Retail is a complex, dynamic business with an incredible diversity of areas to focus on. Finance, accounting, merchandising, management/leadership, design all have important roles to play in a retail business. It was this diversity that attracted me to the industry and which has kept me passionate and energized for over 25 years. I highly encourage high-energy, bright and ambitious young people to consider a career in retail. Few industries offer a faster track to meaningful responsibility–running a complex business, managing people and financial resources. For the entrepreneurially minded, an early career with an established well-run retailer provides an amazing foundation for going off on your own in a few years. For those who thrive in a company environment, the upward opportunities are amazing. Don’t allow today’s economic difficulties to thwart a desire to get into retailing. There will always be consumers wanting an amazing shopping experience. Why not be one… Read more »
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