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Careers in retailing.

Retail sales is an excellent career path for people-oriented, service-oriented individuals. Retail sales personnel are the undisputed frontline troops in the final phase of actually getting customers to spend their hard-earned dollars to obtain a company's products and services.

As stated by Dr. William J. Qualls of the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "When a company gets to the point such that it is not interfacing satisfactorily with the customer, it is time to close the shop!" He stresses the point that customer service is a critical function in both the traditional retail areas such as department store merchandising and rapidly growing new areas such as computer sales and servicing. "Companies involved in retailing afford the graduate an early opportunity to use his or her professional knowledge to improve company profits through the maintenance of appropriate assortments of goods and services in locations easily accessible to customers," adds Dr. Charles L. Evans of Florida A&M University's School of Business & Industry. "The marked growth of general merchandisers, such as department stores, discount houses, chain and 'warehouse-showroom' stores, has brought about greater emphasis on professional training as part of the preparation for a career in retailing."

Job Prospects

Retail sales is an excellent career path for those who are not keen on purely technical work. Sales people who are creative and responsive to the changing socio-economic environment can find rewarding positions. "While, historically, starting salaries and job assignments in retailing have been at lower levels than in manufacturing or advertising, for example, the gap is narrowing, both in terms of initial responsibility and in terms of money," asserts Dr. Evans.

The College Placement Council (CPC) Salary Survey reported average salary offers to bachelor's degree candidates of approximately $23,500 and offers ranging upwards to over $30,000 for those at the high end. Those who receive offers at the high end generally have had some experience in retail positions. "I would tell students to try to put together a package," urges Dr. Patricia Robinson of Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. "They should decide what they want--such as personnel or store planning, and take courses in these things, so that if an opportunity presents itself, these students can take advantage of those challenges."

Students who seek higher salary offers in sales should also consider the more technical areas, such as selling directly to medical doctors, pharmacists, or other health professionals. Parke-Davis hires a number of graduates with business or science degrees. A new sales hire with the pharmaceutical company Parke-Davis can expect to start at that company with at least $32,850 plus commissions and a car.

In addition, those who take the extra year or two to complete a master's degree program can expect a hefty premium for their efforts, according to the CPC Survey. Salary offers for master's degree candidates average $43,000 and range upwards to over $52,000. Often, these higher salary offers for graduate students come with jobs that target the managerial fastrack.

Moreover, Dr. Bobby Davis, associate professor of marketing at Florida A&M University, declares that the job prospects in retail sales have improved recently due to a labor shortage in the traditional part-time retail work-force. According to Dr. Davis, "Retailers have had difficulty in attracting and retaining college students, and in developing a quality work force. This labor shortage is one of the three most important issues that retailers are facing."

Dr. Qualls agrees with Dr. Davis that the job prospects in retail sales are improving. Underscoring this issue, Dr. Qualls noted that computer companies IBM and DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) both tried to move some of their technical people into direct sales positions as part of their corporate downsizing and restructuring efforts. These companies found that many of their technical people did not have an adequate sales orientation. Thus, even companies in the process of laying off employees may still be forced to hire at the retail sales level.

To attract good salespersons, companies are offering a widening array of fringe benefits. Woodward & Lothrop/John Wanamaker, with annual sales over one billion dollars and close to 16,000 employees, cites a benefits package of store discounts, tuition reimbursements, life insurance, medical plans, dental and optical care, paid vacations and holidays, and a company-sponsored pre-tax savings and investment plan. "Features being offered by different companies are child care services for working mothers, rotation of employees to lessen the boredom, a raise in the starting salary, a reward system with bonuses and attractive career paths," says Dr. Davis.

Traditional Retail & Merchandising

The most visible positions in the retail world involve direct selling to the general public. When the upscale chocolatier Godiva, Inc. opened a new store in Washington, D.C.'s newly renovated Penn Central Station, Odell Reuben was tapped to bring the store on board and direct its course. Reuben brought experience in customer service beginning with his job with United Parcel Service during his years as a college student and through a stint with Citicorp at the retail banking level. "A salesperson must have a pleasant personality, must be outgoing, and must be friendly--all three. Integrity and honesty are very important, so is a willingness to show initiative," counsels Reuben.

As a retail store manager, his responsibilities include personnel as well as fiscal decision-making. Like other retail sales managers, Reuben is responsible for developing and controlling the retail sales program. The retail manager directs staffing and training and must conduct performance evaluations for the entire staff.

At the corporate level, the manager coordinates sales distribution by establishing sales territories, quotas, and goals. The manager must analyze sales statistics to formulate policy and assist subordinates in promoting sales. Managerial responsibilities include the review of market reports in order to determine customer needs and to develop sales campaigns to achieve the goals of the company. In addition, the retail sales manager must constantly monitor the product mix to eliminate unprofitable items from the sales line.

"Retailing, especially with larger firms, offers an opportunity to move in a few years into the management of a branch or part of a store doing as much as $5 million in sales," adds Dr. Evans. "In effect, the new recruit has the opportunity to exercise his ideas with profit and loss responsibility for a significant business unit. The larger chains and department stores have highly respected formal training programs, some of which are among the best in the country, irrespective of type of business. Among the wide variety of routes to top management in retailing are (1) merchandise management and (2) store management. The progression in the former would be from assistant buyer to merchandise division manager. For the latter, it would be assistant department (sales) manager to department manager to store (branch) manager."

For instance, at the Thom McAn Shoe Company, college graduates generally begin their careers in a management trainee or assistant manager position. Thom McAn's four-level management training program involves the mastery of over 70 competencies over a nine-month period. Successful completion of this comprehensive program provides the opportunity for selection as a store manager. Effective performance at the level of store manager opens opportunities for consideration at higher levels of store management, field management, merchandising, and more.

Hallmark Cards, Inc. provides numerous opportunities for advancement in the field of retail sales beginning with its in-depth training program. Retail sales assignments begin with the assignment of a territory under the guidance of a sales manager. Territories are determined by population density, geographic location, and volume considerations. These territories may consist of several counties and may include anywhere from 25 to 60 established accounts. The Hallmark retail sales representative, also called the field representative, is expected to meet and exceed sales objectives both by increasing the volume of sales to existing accounts and by opening new accounts. Other responsibilities include the training of retail store personnel in sales and merchandising techniques and in inventory control procedures. Finally, the field representative must develop sales strategies, individual store advertising, and other marketing programs aimed at the retail customer. Successful performance as a field representative can lead to advancement opportunities as a manager both in the field and at corporate headquarters.

New Directions In Retail Sales

As our economy becomes increasingly service-oriented, the sky is the limit for persons who can apply the skills necessary for a successful career in retail sales to a technical or quantitative industry. For example, Radio Shack, a division of the Tandy Corporation, provides an intensive training program about its computers and other products and the best way to sell them. Similarly, a retail sales career with ADP (Automated Data Processing, Inc.) begins with a four- to six-month period learning ADP's consultative selling techniques and gathering knowledge about the company's products. The next step in retail sales for ADP involves a position as associate district manager or district manager. This level involves selling ADP payroll processing services, human resources information services and tax filing services to small business owners, who may have little or no background in such technical areas.

Likewise, the expanding emphasis upon consumer banking in the financial services industry affords yet another avenue of opportunities to the retail-oriented job-seeker. For example, New England-based Citizens Bank, a subsidiary of the $56 billion Royal Bank of Scotland Group, selects branch managers who possess strong management skills, a high energy level, and a commitment to community interests.

Darrin Holloman, a branch manager with Barnett Banks, describes his job as that of manager, producer, evaluator, and salesperson. The retail sales functions of the branch banker include the attraction of deposits, the making of loans, and the selling of packaged or bundled accounts as well as affiliate products such as trust and brokerage accounts. Banks offer training programs for aspiring branch managers which include both classroom and on-the-job training. According to Holloman, "In addition to accounting and finance, this training focuses upon people skills, oral communication skills, and analytical skills."

Andre Brooks, area manager for the BancBoston Mortgage Corporation (a subsidiary of the Bank of Boston Corporation), is a rising star in the interest-rate sensitive mortgage banking industry. Heading a team of eight loan originators and two support staff who help the public find the money to purchase their homes, Brooks notes the challenges of understanding the motivations of and economic situations faced by potential clients. "Don't bring your own baggage in trying to close the deal," advises Brooks. "Cultivate good relationships. Understand, accept, and adjust! Be in touch with a constantly changing environment." Because mortgage loan originators work entirely on commission, they have significant control over their incomes. As more people look for home-buying opportunities in today's low interest-rate environment, many hard-working, customer-oriented loan originators are earning six-figure incomes.

Preparation for a Career in Retail Sales

Students who wish to succeed in retail sales should take a variety of courses in marketing and related fields. Marketing courses should include salesmanship, merchandising, advertising, and retailing. "Additionally, courses which teach computer applications in retail businesses would be useful. Similarly, a background in the financial side--retail math merchandising--will prove useful to the aspiring retail sales manager," suggests Dr. Robinson.

Adds Dr. Davis, "A psychology or sociology course would be helpful to provide a foundation for understanding cultural and social styles."

Students who are interested in retail sales should join clubs that are involved in competitions or involved with businesses. Co-ops are another opportunity to gain useful experience.

Students would benefit from an internship or co-op with a department store or any type of retailer. Part-time jobs with a retail business will provide needed exposure and give students an idea about whether they want to pursue a career in marketing/retailing. Even fast food restaurants offer useful retail experience.

Finally, students should become involved in marketing clubs. Marketing clubs or the American Marketing Association may sponsor seminars that they can attend and gain valuable knowledge.

Associations and Organizations for Career Advancement

National Retail Merchants Association 100 West 31st Street New York, NY 10001

American Marketing Association 222 S. Riverside Plaza Chicago, Illinois 60606

Dr. Lucy J. Reuben is a professor in the School of Business at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida.

Role Model Profile

Phil Jones Manager Walgreen's Bronx, New York

After Phil Jones graduated from Siena College, Loudonville, New York, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his marketing and management degree: manage a store with a highly successful, national chain.

In 1989, Jones interviewed with Walgreen Co., the nation's largest drugstore chain with 1,761 stores in 29 states and Puerto Rico. Although he entered as a retail management trainee, he saw a wealth of opportunity that would lead him toward his goal.

Today, Jones manages a $7 million-a-year store in the Bronx, NY, but in achieving success there is no room for complacency. Jones has simply upped the ante. His immediate goal is to become a district manager.

His recipe for success: "Never lose sight of your dreams. Value the education you get and then ask yourself, 'What do I want my education to do for me?' See yourself in the future--where you want to be. Strive to put yourself there. Remember, hard work on your part is the best way to guarantee success!"

Role Model Profile

Monique Timberlake General Manager Staples Inc. Manassas, VA

As general manager of Staples store #98, Monique Timberlake is responsible for the effective coordination of all store activities in a manner that maximizes sales, earnings, customer satisfaction, and staff development.

Upon graduating in 1988 with a sociology degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Timberlake entered the Staples Management Training Program. After successfully completing the training requirements, she was promoted to assistant merchandise manager in 1989, handling shipments, scheduling and training staff, inventory control, and merchandising.

Soon she was called to open a new store as the cash department manager, handling all of the monetary transactions for the store including balance sheets and reconciliations, while training associates and running front-end operations. Within two years she progressed to service manager, merchandise manager, and regional trainer. She advanced to be the general manager of her own store, managing a retail operation with sales in excess of five million dollars.

Her advice on success: "Get as much training and knowledge as you can. Never stop learning. Work at something that you enjoy and continue to better yourself through knowledge and experience. Take the initiative to make your own career goals a reality."

Associations and Organizations for Career Advancement
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Career Reports/Business; Annual Jobs Issue; includes role model profiles and addresses of organizations
Author:Reuben, Lucy J.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Job market still tight ... but, light at the end of the tunnel? The Black Collegian's industry by industry assessment of the job outlook for the...
Next Article:Careers in nursing.

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