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Issue: October 17, 2004
Package Yourself for Retail
by Julia Hollister
Sell me this pencil. Tell me why it is different from all the other ones in the box." That's the way Don Kaeding, a retail manager in San Francisco, often begins an interview with a prospective employee.
"It's the candidate with the fast comeback who gets my attention every time," he remarks. "Some will hesitate while others will say, 'It's lightweight, portable, affordable, comes in many colors, when you make a mistake you can use the erasure end to correct the errors.' This rapid response can make or break an interview."
Another tip for a prospective employee is making eye contact. Kaeding says if a candidate can't look him in the eye, they can't look customers in the eye. "That bothers me," he declares. "People in their 30s and 40s were taught to think and offer practical customer service and now I don't see it.
Kaeding began his retail career 23 years ago when he was working two jobs in vintage clothing and fast food. It didn't take him long to realize that fast food was not the kind of career he could sink his teeth into. He moved to San Francisco and got hired by a clothing store. They liked his customer service so he began to move up the ladder.
"I've seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years and I think the most revealing is that people aren't buying the high-end items like they used to," he says. "That mindset was part of the 'Me Generation' of the '80s and people have fallen away from that.
Retail customers now will spend money on luxury items that they can justify, such as an expensive table. Those in the industry should be keenly aware of such trends among the buying public, he believes.
Pursue Your Passion
For those aspiring to get into retail sales, Kaeding suggests you follow your passion. Look for work at the store where you like to shop.
Katherine Mance, vice president of the National Retail Foundation, agrees. She advises jobseekers considering retail to sell the items they love. For example, if you are nuts about shoes, ask to start in the shoe department, and likewise with music or books.
"Your passion could become your job and you could get paid for it," she advises. "Opportunities abound."
"Retail is one of the strongest growing sectors in the economy as well as one of the largest high-growth, high-demand industries," states Mance. "The Labor Department has been investing money with us for job training in the expectation of 3 million new jobs over the next few years."
What about the perception that retail is declining because of e-commerce? Not so, she says. Many retail companies, such as Sears, JCPenney, Saks, Office Depot, Kmart, Wal-Mart and many more have created sophisticated websites on which consumers can purchase merchandise. And retail employees with information technology and computer design skills are more highly valued than ever. However, e-commerce will only supplement, not replace, the traditional aspects of the retail industry.
"The growth of online shopping has not diminished the brick- and-mortar companies," she reports. "Stores are going to multichannel in their operations. That means a customer can buy something on the retailer's Internet site and take it back to a real store."
All kinds of retail jobs are available, from management on down, including thousands of line positions in stores across the country.
"People are the most important part of the retail equation," according to Mance, "because you have to have the right person to entice customers to return. All retailers have the same mantra - send us people with the right attitude and we can train them in any position." Many retailers offer internships in association with a local college curriculum. This offers an opportunity to learn firsthand about the industry.
Retail sales is usually the first portal into the workforce for most jobseekers, and the experience just got sweeter. New figures from the Department of Labor show average hourly wages for the industry at $11.90.
More than Selling
Retailing is not just about selling. Opportunities exist in areas such as marketing and advertising, loss prevention, human resources, store operations, store management, finance, technology, distribution and merchandise buying.
Retail companies with franchise stores offer additional opportunities for those budding entrepreneurs who want to be their own boss. But retailers don't have to be large to have sizable inventories of opportunity. Over 96 percent of US retailers have fewer than 50 employees.
"There are tremendous opportunities in all areas, not just sales," Mance contends. "I know someone selling shoes at an upscale store who earns $180,000 a year. With good clientele, the prospects are limitless."
For Kaeding, it's more than the money. It's the variety. "Although retailing is a lot of hard work, I love it because no two days are the same."
For more information on careers in retail, contact:
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