By James Michael McDonald, Editor, Jobpostings.ca
There aren’t many people I know that didn’t, at one time or another, work in retail. For most, it’s a good part-time job while in high school or post-secondary to get some early work experience and earn some extra money. The jobs are easily accessible for hard workers and social butterflies, people willing to put in the time and energy.
The fact is, though, that working in retail is so much more than you think.
SKILLS AT THE STARTING GATE
“Retail develops many skills and competencies which can be used within retail and cross-functionally in different industries,” says Nima Ghodratpour, MBA candidate at Queen’s, with over 11 years of Canadian and international luxury retail experience with Clinique, Bloomingdale’s, and Boutique 1. “Some of the skills picked up in a retail environment include interpersonal and listening skills, coaching and people management, negotiation skills, sales skills, building relationships, business management, and financial accounting.”
Essentially, working a retail position as a young person, before you dive head-first into a career, is preparing yourself for future success.
“The actual physical duties in retail are the least significant and important that a hirer cares about. What they truly care about is personality,” says Suzanne Sears, senior executive director of Best Retail Careers International Inc., which focuses on specialty retail recruiting across the world. “Are you able to make relationships with customers? That’s what they care about. Once you have these relationships, can you service these people and can you make the customer happy?”
The great thing about young people working at the store level is if you don’t enter the field as someone able to instantly make relationships with customers, you will soon be able to. These environments are designed to train employees and encourage growth.
“Working in a team can be difficult at times,” says Ghodratpour. “However, it also presents the opportunity to develop essential job skills and potentially long-lasting relationships. Good retailers pay a great deal of attention on teamwork and work to ensure that management is fostering a culture of team engagement.”
MOVING THROUGH THE PACK
If it turns out you like the company you work for, or love the idea of retail as an industry, you’re in luck. There are thousands—nay, millions—of retail positions out there that are in or above store-level. You don’t have to be at the customer level to have a full career in retail.
“There are functional roles,” says Sears. “There’s a tremendous demand for IT professionals who can design point-of-purchase systems. There are people who sell retail fixtures. There are architectural roles in designing stores. There are statistical roles in financial analysis.”
And the list goes on: financial accountants, lawyers, graphic artists, professionals in human resources, buying, merchandising, etc. There’s also a trend to keep up-to-date, so retailers are hiring social media pros, marketing gurus, and communications experts—all perfect careers for recent grads with the right skill sets. “Virtually any career that’s in Canada, you will find in retail,” she adds.
While there is certainly opportunity for outsiders with professional backgrounds to dive into the retail industry in these roles, it’s also very possible for you to move up from a simple part-time job.
“I’m an excellent example of moving up from a part-time store-level job to a full-time management-level position,” says Ghodratpour. “Retail is a fast-paced and highly competitive environment that includes many opportunities for growth and development. Many retailers—in particular luxury retail—put a huge emphasis on talent development and succession planning to ensure the retention of talent. This is done not only because it reduces staff turnover, which can cut into the bottom line, but also ensures that the company holds on to a workforce with intimate knowledge of processes and corporate culture.”
Sears adds that there is great opportunity in coming years for those looking to make their mark.
“Believe it or not, for retail employment in Canada, the last statistics I saw showed that the unemployment rate is about two per cent. It’s very low in the sense that retail doesn’t have anywhere near the number of people in the trade that is required. All the boomers are retiring. People who have been in retail for 20, 30, 40 years are leaving the field within the next five years, so advancement is massive and quick for the right people.”
CHECKING OUT THE FINISH LINE
Aside from the baby boomers retiring en masse in coming years, there is also significant growth now and in the near future in retail.
“A number of brands that have traditionally been carried in department stores or other multi-brand retailers are actually opening their own Canadian headquarters and are looking at expanding to Canada, opening either their own stores or opening concessions within department stores,” says Craig Patterson, editor-in-chief and founder of Retail Insider, providing a detailed analysis of the Canadian retail market.
“There are also a lot of American retailers coming into Canada. We’ve had a lot of homegrown retailers in Canada who haven’t seen a lot of growth or are actually struggling so I think we’re going to see a lot more international retailers coming in. On the flip side, value-priced retailers are on the rise, so we’re going to see more jobs in places like Dollarama.” He mentions that value-priced retail is expanding by nearly 50 per cent over the next several years, meaning a lot of opportunities for both young people at store level and professionals in the expanding “head office” branch of retail.
And if you’re thinking retail isn’t for you because of the pay, think again.
“I think most people underestimate how well retail pays,” says Sears. “There are very few big box store managers who aren’t making up to $200,000 per year. It’s a highly paid trade.”
When looking for a position that’s right for you, be it in a store or in any role in the industry, it’s best to know what you want and to go after it.
To find out if a store is right for you, Ghodratpour says to visit, interact with staff, and gather information. Be sure to go to companies that you enjoy, because developing a long-term job or a lifelong career with a brand you love can only lead to career satisfaction.
“Retail is ultimately about passion,” he says. “Making sure you align your passions with that of a company is of ultimate importance.”