Mollie Mainhardt, a salesperson at Georgiou, an upscale women’s clothing store in San Francisco, found retail sales was just the right prescription for career burnout.
"I am a registered nurse and just wanted to take a break from the pressure and long hours," she relates. "I wanted a non-stressful position and to work in a pleasant, people-oriented workplace. This job is perfect for me."
Mainhardt says successful sales candidates have a good vocabulary and a certain ‘presence,’ in addition to being well groomed with a sense of style and grace, and able to "put themselves together well."
"We also look for someone who has good people skills and can greet and initiate conversation with the customer," she emphasizes. "That’s because most of sales is not just pushing merchandise; it’s creating a relationship that is unique to the store."
Sold on Personality
No experience is needed to get into the industry. If you have a good personality and the ability to converse, but no retail knowledge, there’s a good chance that Georgiou will still hire and train you. Most openings are entry-level positions where salespeople learn how to market merchandise and sell directly.
The downside of retail, according to Mainhardt, is standing all day long; but then there is the reward of a job well done.
"Customers walk in and say they need a dress. My mission is to narrow that scope and match the dress with the customer’s body type, coloring, personal style, and with the occasion. Sometimes I have to tease the information out of them which can be difficult, and you have to know the inventory. I also give them permission to say ‘no’ to selections."
Shopping and deciding what looks good can be overwhelming for some people and savvy salespeople know when to be helpful and when to leave a customer alone. "Some customers don’t want to be smothered and others want a lot of help putting a ‘look’ together," she confides. "I don’t think you get that kind of service in large stores these days. Salespeople just work the cash register instead of giving individual attention."
What about handling a difficult, demanding customer? "I just smile and try to correct the situation. You aren’t going to change them. A salesperson will eventually encounter those kinds of personalities and you have to remember it’s not about you, it’s about them."
With well over 50 stores in California, Target is always looking for quality candidates to join their team. "We are accepting applications all the time," confirms Modesto store manager Barbara Howard. "Basically, having retail experience, although helpful, is not required. Target has a training program."
Positions range from marketing to buying, merchandising and team support. Howard looks for candidates who have that special spark. Attributes such as organizational and
motivational skills and the ability to work well with colleagues and customers can get you noticed, as well as getting you a paycheck.
"Retailing is a high-paced, customer service-oriented business," she confirms. "Therefore, candidates who want to get into the industry need enthusiasm and the exciting desire to learn something new every day."
Retailing transcends age barriers as active retirees return to the workplace for part-time or full-time employment. For management positions, Howard looks for someone who has a college degree or several years experience in the retail industry. But don’t let that discourage you – she says Target hires lots of recent graduates with no background in the business.
Howard’s attitude toward her career is as fresh as the packaged sheets in the linen department. "Each day brings new challenges along with new merchandise," she declares. "I suppose the best part of my career is working with team members and with the guests in our store."
Shops Till You Drop
According to the National Retail Federation, overall retail sales for 2004 totaled $3.4 trillion. That stunning sum is a catalyst for new job opportunities, with retailers opening more stores every day.
"I advise those who are considering retail as a career to think of the things that you like to do or the things that make you happy," advises Kathy Mance, vice president of the NRF. "If you especially love home décor, kitchen and the art of cuisine, books or clothing, investigate stores that feature those items." Or maybe music is your thing. If you like gardening or tools, there are lots of home-improvement businesses in search of employees with that interest and passion.
"Once you have narrowed the field of interest, investigate the companies you know and then go to the Internet and discover small retailers in that defined area," Mance recommends. "There are many small boutiques and entrepreneurs doing innovative things."
Next step is going to their websites to learn more about the company, career opportunities and whom to contact. Once you have decided on specific employers, then it’s time to present yourself for an interview.
Take along your resume or some sort of recap of your education and special training credentials. Appearance is critical, she stresses. Meet your interviewer like you are ready to work, not like you are going out for a burger.
"Retailing is for everybody," Mance claims. "Typically, most come into the workforce through retail, and many stay and succeed. It’s also an industry for people at all stages of life, from people with small children working part-time to seniors."
There is a huge initiative to hire seniors now because they are viewed as very attractive workers with extensive experience and a good work ethnic.
The NRF website (nrf.com) offers answers to questions such as "Is retail for me?" There are also links to colleges and universities offering retail degree programs.
Mance insists one quality can set you apart from other candidates. "Retailers always say, send me somebody with good attitude and the ability to get along with others. A face-to-face salesperson should know they represent the entire corporation and he or she will determine if the person being helped becomes a loyal customer or goes elsewhere.