Aspirational jobs for retail professionals
2nd June 2023
Where next? Aspirational jobs for retail professionals
Right now, you’re a retail store assistant, concession manager or warehouse operative. But where could a little ambition and a record of success take you? If you’re thinking of the next rung(s) of the career ladder, here are some roles to consider.
Store Manager / Warehouse Manager
If you already work in store or in the warehouse, you’ll already have some idea of what your branch manager does. Yet besides leading the shop/warehouse floor team, communicating head office strategy and setting the standard for customer service, there’s plenty more you won’t see.
They’ll be responsible for store performance and will liaise with regional management to address issues and share best practice. They’ll be responsible for developing the team around them. They may have input into recruitment.
In any application for retail store management, recruiters will want to see a proven ability to lead, an ability to multi-task, the confidence to make (good) decisions and the sort of analytical skills that can turn complex data into something every member of the team can ‘get’.
Although job descriptions don’t always mention it, it’s also good to be able to demonstrate that you’re capable of taking the tough decisions, of bringing people on board with initially unpopular ideas, and of thinking strategically.
How do you go about getting that experience when it’s not part of your current role? Ask to shadow your manager to build understanding of what’s involved (and to decide whether it’s right for you). Then, apply for ‘stepping stone’ jobs to take you there: department supervisor, shift supervisor or store/warehouse deputy.
If your favourite part of your shop floor role is seeing the new season’s products fill the shelves – or watching how quickly they fly off them – it’s worth considering a career as a merchandiser or buyer.
Retail buyers are responsible for selecting the in-store or online products that will be on trend next season. Merchandisers are responsible for ensuring those products reach their sales potential and zip from warehouse to customers’ homes without hanging around in store.
Senior buying and merchandising positions are extremely competitive (a senior buyer not only forecasts future buying habits but builds relationships with suppliers and negotiates contracts; a senior merchandiser may be responsible for the entire layout of a store or chain of stores, creating environments that help customers find what they want easily and encourage them to buy).
To reach those senior positions you’ll need to have a track record of success in more junior roles. To get the junior roles you’ll usually need a degree or in-store experience and a passion for the role. If you currently work in a retail store and want to climb the buying/merchandising career ladder, you’re likely starting point is as a buying/merchandising admin assistant.
Retail HR Manager
The role of HR in retail is to recruit, develop company-wide training and development programmes, create and monitor people policies and wellness programmes, and to monitor the ‘churn’ of employees, so you understand what makes people join you and what makes them leave.
To climb the retail HR career ladder, you’ll either want to get a degree in a relevant subject and then join a retailer’s HR department as an HR Administrator or similar, or build at least a couple of years of solid retail management experience (perhaps as a store manager or deputy manager) and then switch to an HR-focused career. Either way, if you want to progress in retail HR you’ll need to balance experience with professional qualifications.
Other Retail Ambitions
Whatever the field, chances are it’s part of the retail world. Finance? Supply chains? Sustainability? IT and AI? You name it, there’s a career to be built in it within retail.
As with any other career, achieving the top jobs requires a combination of experience, qualifications and structured ambition. Take sustainability, for example. Speaking to Business of Fashion, Stella McCartney’s Worldwide Sustainability & Innovation Director, Claire Bergkamp suggested the following as part of the path to a top job in retail sustainability:
- Choose your path: That might, for example, be environmental sustainability, but it could also be social responsibility
- Choose your market sector: Is your ambition to work in high fashion, supermarkets, big box retailers or something else?
- Build knowledge (from the right resources)
- Gain experience
Claire entered the world of sustainable fashion with a business degree. It may be possible to reach your aspirational retail job without a degree, but it will likely take longer and you may still be required to gain professional qualifications or accreditations while in work.
Moving On Up
Are the above roles not quite aspirational enough for you? Do you have ambitions that will take you all the way to board-level? A C-suite (the ‘C’ stands for ‘Chief’ – Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Information (https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/workplace-talent/10-tips-to-starting-a-career-in-sustainability/)
Officer (CIO) etc) role in retail isn’t necessarily unachievable. After all, every retailer has a top team, and everyone in that team started somewhere.
There are, however, some common traits and experiences that increase your chances of joining the retail elite:
- C-suites have got lots of senior leadership experience: As a minimum, that will likely have been in a regional manager role, but it’s far more likely they will have led head office departments before reaching the very top tier.
- C-suites have managed change: To join a retailer’s top team, it’s not enough to have managed the status quo and have kept things ticking over. C-suites shake things up. They steer companies through difficult periods. They drive change. You’ll need experience of that too.
- C-suites lead strategic change: The tactical day-to-day of an organisation is for others to deal with. Top leaders set the direction. You’ll need experience of making sound strategic choices.
- C-suites move: If you want to climb to the very top of the retail career ladder, the chances are you won’t do it in the organisation you’re currently with. Top leaders recognise the benefit of moving because that opens them up to new ideas and experiences.
So if you want to reach the very, very top, be prepared to move organisation several times.
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