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What It Takes to Succeed in Retail

What It Takes to Succeed in Retail

Successful retailing professionals have a passion for the industry. They're committed to outdistancing their competition and giving 110 percent to their employers and careers. Seeing their companies beat the competition by selling better products, toppling last year's sales figures, and pushing their sales staffs to reach and exceed sales goals gives them a feeling of intense satisfaction.

In a competitive retail world, competitor product knowledge (as well as knowledge of their own products) and technological savvy will be increasingly important for retailing professionals, says Lindy Williams, former corporate director of career development for American Express.

Here are some other keys to ensure a successful retail career.

Promote Yourself

Promotions in retailing can happen remarkably fast, and they're linked to performance.

Follow these tips to get that next promotion:

  • Learn new skills and knowledge, and accept opportunities to develop yourself and carry out additional responsibilities.
  • Show management you are dedicated to your current job.
  • Meet or exceed all expectations in your present position.
  • Be cooperative and flexible.
  • Solve problems, serve your customers, and demonstrate initiative, creativity and ethics.

Know the Culture

Some retail workplaces are suit-and-tie environments. Others are laid-back and casual. Most lie somewhere in between. It's important to find the right environment for you. These are your options.

Entrepreneurial culture:

  • Emphasizes risk taking and independence.
  • Moves quickly to stay on top of the competition. Keeps products and services on the market's cutting edge.
  • Often pays the sales force on commission.

Small-business culture (not all companies with this culture are small, and not all small companies adopt this culture):

  • Takes risks, but they usually are based more on brainstorming and evaluation than seat-of-the-pants management.
  • Values cooperation and shared growth. This means that if one person, department or branch does well, everyone shares in the benefits.

Corporate culture:

  • Hierarchical organization.
  • Tends to have layers of reporting and management.
  • Salaries and employee benefits are usually stratified and formalized.
  • Often has more rules than the other cultures.

If you're anxious to rise quickly to the top, a company that leans toward the entrepreneurial may be the best fit. If you're not keen on internal competition, a small-business culture may suit you better. And if you want to follow a stable, predictable timetable and have a clear sense of an organization's boundaries, a corporate culture may be right for you.

Find a Mentor

A mentor can teach you things about retailing you can't learn at school or by reading a book.

Nadine Smithline, manager of training and communications at Federated Merchandising Group, advises all new retail professionals to "find someone at a higher level, who's been in retail -- and with the company -- for a while. Select someone you can talk with confidentially, who can show you the path."

Manage Your Time

"Retail professionals must be good time managers," says Stanley Guss of the Retail Job Mart. Here are his three rules for retail time management:

  1. What affects the cash register today gets done first.
  2. What affects the cash register tomorrow gets done second.
  3. What affects the cash register next week gets done third.

Regardless of the workplace culture, most retail environments are hectic. Working evenings, weekends and holidays is standard for everyone having public contact, from the president down to the most junior sales associate.

How do retail professionals deal with these demands on their time? Here are some pointers:

  • Know your job. Know what you are expected to do and what your boss expects you to deliver on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Discuss issues that may conflict with fulfilling these obligations as soon as you are aware of them.
  • Prioritize and organize, with your manager's help as needed. All career retailers juggle multiple tasks simultaneously; that's part of the fun of the work. But make sure you put your time and energy where it's needed. Avoid procrastinating, outside distractions and time-wasting activities.

Learn more about retail careers.


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