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5 Ways To Progress To Store Manager

1st April 2024

It’s one thing to have an ambition to become a store manager. It’s another to actually do it. In this ZD Guide, we’ll explore the steps to advance your career and become a store manager.

Pick any retail recruitment survey you like, and one stat will always come across loud and clear: yes, salary matters, but the opportunity to progress is also one of the most important factors for candidates in choosing their next employer.

If you’re currently working on the shop floor, chances are ‘progression’ means setting your sights on retail leadership jobs. But how exactly do you do that?
The answer is through a combination of skills and qualities (that is, the things you are or have) and the steps you take to achieve your goal (that is, the things you do). Let’s break those down.

What skills and qualities are crucial for aspiring store managers to develop?

We’ve hired a lot of store managers in our time and while we’ve written job ads for managers of luxury retail stores, ‘big boxes’, supermarkets and small independents, they all share the same core qualities.
We’re not saying all retail leadership jobs only require these qualities — work in luxury retail, for example, and you’ll also need a strong understanding of the luxury world — but every store manager will need these skills as a sort of core toolkit.


What is retail leadership? According to McKinsey, it’s “a set of behaviors used to help people align their collective direction, to execute strategic plans, and to continually renew an organization.”
It’s more than simply ‘managing’, which means we’ve probably been mis-labelling store managers all these years.

Team building

What’s the difference between a team and a bunch of people who just happen to work in the same place? It’s the way they gel. They way they face challenges and success together. The way they bounce ideas off each other. The way they come together to support each other and become more than the sum of their parts. As a store manager, it’s your role to make sure the people around you operate as a team.

Strategic/analytical skills

Every store has its KPIs (key performance indicators), but without the ability to analyse data and understand what it’s telling you, KPIs are just numbers. A store manager needs to be able to interpret data and use that information to help drive action.

Problem solving

When you’re the boss, everyone comes to you with the problems they can’t solve. What distinguishes the best store managers is the ability not simply to provide answers but to help your team reach the right answers themselves.


How can you expect your team to meet their goals or behave in a certain way if you can’t explain what your expectations are? That’s part of why store managers need to be good, clear, simple communicators.
It’s also about motivation. Retail can be relentless. There’s always another sale to prepare for, another peak season round the corner. A store manager encourages, praises and cajoles, so the team is always ready to perform week in, week out.


Given everything above, it almost goes without saying that you’ll have a lot to juggle as a store manager. But it’s not just your ability to get a lot done that marks you out as ideal for retail leadership jobs; it’s your ability to do it all while still having your eye on the bigger picture. While still being approachable. And while managing what can be a pretty stressful environment while remaining the calm centre of it all.

How can employees increase their chances of being promoted to a store manager position?

  1. Shadow the boss

    Being a store manager is a bit like being an iceberg. Everyone only sees about 20% of what’s really going on. So the fact that you may have seen (or experienced) your manager’s coaching ability, motivational skills, or ability to deal with a customer complaint at first hand doesn’t mean you’ve seen everything their role involves.
    The best way to answer the question ‘what is retail leadership?’ is to ask to shadow your manager. Spending a day in their world should give you a much clearer view of what the manager really does during a day and help you decide if it’s the right role for you.

  2. Build your experience across the business

    Shop floor experience is important, but if you’re looking for retail leadership development, explore ways of broadening that experience. Ask to spend some time in the warehouse or stockroom. If your store has a separate customer service area, ask to spend some time there. From HR to IT to visual merchandising, if it’s a part of your store, ask about shadowing, secondment or transfer opportunities that help you build your skillset.

  3. Get experience as a leader

    Store managers will be expected to have already had managerial experience. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to get that sort of retail leadership development by being a supervisor, concession or department head or a deputy manager (depending on the type of store).
    These positions are great for new managers because they expose you to many of the typical challenges a store manager might face. They also enable you to do it in a ‘safe’, controlled environment where there’s a tightly defined limit to your role and always a more experienced person to get help and advice from.

  4. Get qualified

    Not every store manager has a university degree. But lots do, and they’ve often used it to get on the graduate management schemes run by many retailers. Graduate schemes are intense one or two year periods of ‘hothoused’ retail leadership development, where a retailer gets to shape its managers of the future.
    The degree is the pass to get on the scheme and it tells a retailer that you have the academic chops, and the ability to absorb information, that every trainee store manager will need.
    But what if university isn’t on option for you? In retail, the door isn’t necessarily closed. You can still work your way up and show your capability through doing each shop floor job well. Your employer may also have a (non-graduate) management scheme you can apply to be part of.
    You may also be able to boost your chances by exploring other qualifications that help you get a foot in the door. The British Retail Consortium has its own apprenticeship scheme for leadership in retail, for example. Other managerial courses are available too.

  5. Be prepared to transfer

    Here’s the reality of retail leadership jobs: they’re more likely to appear elsewhere in the organisation than in your store. It’s also true that managing in several stores will make you a more rounded and experienced manager faster than if you simply stay in one place (because you’ll be exposed to many more people and issues).
    Personal circumstances mean that not everyone is able to move to find leadership roles, but if you can, you’ll increase your chances of success.

Become a store manager with Zachary Daniels

Have the skills and experience to lead your own store? Looking for retail leadership jobs? We want to hear from you. For help in taking the next career step, talk to us now.

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