5 promising career paths for retail workers
Retail experience can open doors in many different areas—see what your options are.
You might think retail is all about selling, but that’s only part of the picture—56% of it, to be exact. According to the National Retail Foundation, that’s the percentage of retail employees who work in sales. The rest work in other fields, including design, administration, marketing and logistics.
That means there’s plenty of options for you if you’re interested in a retail career. You may already have transferable skills that can translate to higher positions within the retail field or to other industries entirely, says Tammy Colson, a human resources and talent acquisition consultant in Cleveland, Ohio.
The key is taking advantage of educational and cross-training opportunities, says Colson, who previously served as an HR manager at Home Depot. Your best bet is growing your expertise in project and people management, operations, leadership, sales and customer service, which are some of the most in-demand retail skills.
One of Colson’s former Home Depot colleagues serves as a great example of someone who took advantage of such opportunities.
“He had started on the sales floor and wanted to get into HR,” she says. This employee started as a scheduler, took on the additional responsibility of scheduling other employees and then was promoted under Colson to an HR supervisor role. When Home Depot did away with HR departments in individual stores, he moved to a role in operations, and then went to work in the corporate headquarters doing training.
“His key to success was cross-training,” says Colson.
Where you start your retail career isn’t where you have to end up. Explore the potential retail career paths you can pursue with the right skills.
Retail field management
What you'd do: Retail field managers oversee stores and their performance. If you start out at the store level and are a successful employee, you can work your way up the retail ladder to store manager, says Kate Kibler, a New York City-based career coach who specializes in retail and fashion. From there, you may become an area manager, leading two or three stores, and then a district manager, overseeing area managers. Regional managers would cover about 50 stores, and the next step would be head of stores. “This can be a fulfilling and very lucrative career path for the right leader,” says Kibler, who started her own career working in retail stores.
What you'd need: Strong leadership and the ability to coach and manage others are key attributes for people who want to pursue this path.
What you'd make: Retail managers average $42,000 annually and can make upwards $60,000, according to PayScale.
Find retail manager jobs on Monster.
What you'd do: Visual merchandisers “are the people who make a store look great,” says Kibler. “A strong visual merchant can make or break a brand.” People in visual merchandising roles carefully define the customer journey by determining where to put fixtures in a store, deciding how products are presented and showing the customer what to buy. Visual merchandisers may work in the field or in the corporate office. Leaders in visual merchandising tend to be visionaries for the brand, Kibler says.
What you'd need: If you like to work in stores, have a creative streak, understand the brand and can build sales displays, this is the right fit.
What you'd make: These jobs average $40,000, and can pay as much as $50,000, according to PayScale.
Find visual merchandiser jobs on Monster.
Buyers and planners
What you'd do: People in these positions make decisions about what kinds of products should go into stores and in what quantities, says Robin Kelley, a professional resume writer with Resume Preferred in San Francisco. Buyers make choices about which items to buy from wholesalers; planners work with logistics departments to get products to the right place at the right time. For example, a store in Los Angeles will offer different products in different quantities than one in Boise, Idaho, notes Kelley, whose corporate experience includes working for Whole Foods. Entry-level positions are available in corporate offices, or you may start out in the retail store, and then move into a buyer or planner path if you show an aptitude for it.
What you'd need: Buyers must understand the company’s brand perfectly; planners must carefully understand supply and demand cycles in different markets.
What you'd make: Buyers average $52,000 annually, according to PayScale, though the top of the pay range is $94,000 depending on location and experience. Planners report earnings ranging from $46,000 to $97,000, according to PayScale.
Supply chain management
What you'd do: The supply chain for retail stores has many moving parts. Entry-level jobs along this path include drivers, warehouse employees and dispatch positions. People who want to advance along this path may move into management positions at warehouses or delivery departments or even further into corporate positions. Those with supply chain expertise can go on to have lucrative careers higher up in retail or manufacturing, Colson says.
What you'd need: Supply chain professionals need excellent project management skills, as well as knowledge of finance and cost accounting, familiarity with procurement systems, and a grasp of the legal and ethical issues involved in managing contracts. Comfort working cross-culturally is also an advantage, as supply chains often span the globe.
What you'd make: Supply chain planners average $59,000 annually and can make upwards $84,000, according to PayScale.
Find supply chain manager jobs on Monster.
Security and loss prevention
What it is: Shoplifting is big business these days, says Eric Melancon, a store manager for a global clothing retailer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s not just individual thieves; people sometimes work in large, coordinated groups. Retail stores now often hire security and loss prevention specialists to combat this type of theft and to work with law enforcement to prevent it.
These specialists include individuals walking around the store observing customers and protecting physical merchandise, uniformed security personnel protecting patrons, and investigators looking into internal theft, Melancon says. Colson has seen loss prevention specialists move up the corporate ranks, as well as go on to work for law enforcement agencies.
Skills required: Colson says many retailers hire former military personnel for these jobs because they often have the necessary self-defense training and observational skills.
What it pays: Loss prevention manager roles average $45,000 and can pay up to $64,000, reports PayScale.
Find security and loss prevention jobs on Monster.
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