Customer focus, people skills and the ability to successfully multi-task are essential in the world of retail management

Retail managers are responsible for the day-to-day running of stores or departments. The aim of any retail manager is to maximise profits while minimising costs.

You'll ensure promotions are run accurately and to the company's standards and make sure that staff are all working towards the target for the day. It's also your job to ensure that excellent customer care standards are met at all times.

Depending on the size of the store, and company structure, retail managers may also be required to deal with:

  • customer service
  • finance
  • human resources
  • information technology
  • logistics
  • marketing.

Responsibilities

These can vary according to the size of the store but typically involve:

  • managing and motivating a team to increase sales and ensure efficiency
  • managing stock levels and making key decisions about stock control
  • analysing sales figures and forecasting future sales
  • analysing and interpreting trends to facilitate planning
  • using information technology to record sales figures, analyse data and forward plan
  • dealing with staffing issues such as interviewing potential staff, conducting appraisals and performance reviews
  • providing or organising training and development
  • ensuring standards for quality, customer service and health and safety are met
  • resolving health and safety, legal and security issues
  • responding to customer complaints and comments
  • organising special promotions, displays and events
  • attending and chairing meetings
  • updating colleagues on business performance, new initiatives and other pertinent issues
  • touring the sales floor regularly, talking to colleagues and customers and identifying or resolving urgent issues
  • maintaining awareness of market trends in the retail industry, understanding forthcoming customer initiatives and monitoring what competitors are doing
  • initiating changes to improve the business, e.g. revising opening hours to ensure the store can compete effectively in the local market
  • promoting the organisation locally by liaising with local newspapers and the community in general
  • dealing with sales, as and when required.

Salary

  • Salaries for assistant positions generally range between £17,000 and £23,000.
  • With a few years' experience salaries can reach £20,000 to £30,000, depending on the organisation.
  • With more experience, salaries of £35,000 to £60,000+ can be achieved in larger shops or supermarkets.

Some retailers offer bonuses or share offers, which can increase the amount payable, as well as other benefits such as pension schemes, company car, staff discount, private healthcare, professional qualifications, gym membership and travel subsidies.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Within retail, the normal working week can exceed 40 hours. During peak periods such as Christmas, sales and other seasonal holidays managers may work more than 40 hours.

Many retail stores operate in out-of-town sites and are open seven days a week. This means that there is a requirement to work irregular hours including late nights, weekends and bank holidays. Many organisations offer competitive annual leave entitlement. In addition, career breaks or job-sharing opportunities are also available for store managers.

What to expect

  • Retail is a fast-paced environment and managers have to react to consumer's demands and industry trends. Because of this, there is an element of pressure.
  • Most companies have a dress code, with fashion retailers offering employees a substantial discount to wear their merchandise on a seasonal basis.
  • Many companies require their managers to be flexible with their mobility, however this tends to be done on a regional basis and relocation will always be discussed.
  • Self-employment and franchising are possible. However, in spite of support from trade organisations such as The UK Franchise Directory, small traders can find the competition very tough.
  • It is rare for a retail manager to have to travel away from their store base, except for meetings and training events.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a HND or degree in the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • accounting and finance
  • business studies
  • fashion management
  • marketing
  • retail management.

However, there may be exceptions where the retailer is a specialist in its field and a more relevant HND or degree may be preferred.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not usually required, although a proportion of retail managers do undertake relevant postgraduate study. Search for postgraduate courses in retail management.

Entry without a HND or degree is possible.

Retailers look for certain personal qualities during the recruitment process, such as people skills, confidence, enthusiasm and good customer service values. These traits tend to be favoured over academic qualifications.

Many companies expect applicants to have some retail experience whether acquired through part-time or holiday work. Alternatively, larger retailers offer placements for students, which frequently lead to job offers.

Skills

You will need:

  • effective leadership and the ability to motivate others
  • the ability to plan and prioritise workloads and delegate accordingly
  • customer focus
  • the capacity to grasp new concepts quickly
  • the ability to multi-task and work under pressure
  • shrewd business sense and well-developed commercial awareness
  • a desire to work as part of a team to generate fresh and innovative ideas.

Work experience

If you want to work in the retail industry, you need to get some work experience. As well as paid employment, you may also wish to consider voluntary work at local charity shops or similar experiences. You may be involved in a variety of different roles like stock management, pricing, merchandising, finance and customer service.

Alternatively, if there is a specific retailer you wish to work for, contact the local manager to request work shadowing, although be aware that many managers are very busy and may not be able to accommodate your request. Others may offer you another level of management to shadow, such as a supervisor or an assistant manager.

Remember all experience is good experience and if you later apply to the organisation the manager may be involved in the recruitment process.

Employers

There are approximately 287,000 retail outlets in the UK, in an industry worth around £320 billion. Typical employers include:

  • general discounters
  • high street department stores
  • home improvement stores
  • mail order companies
  • niche retailers
  • online sellers
  • specific product-led retailers, e.g. clothing, shoes, food and drink, sporting goods, electrical goods, furniture and furnishings
  • supermarkets
  • television shopping channels.

Look for job vacancies at:

Retail recruitment agencies are increasingly important.

Competition is fierce, with some companies having thousands of applicants for several hundred vacancies. Be aware that closing dates for some training schemes can be as early as December or January, with the aim to start the following September (some close earlier when they have reached their applicant quota), so you will need to prepare early.

Selection techniques in the industry are generally sophisticated and often based on online application procedures and assessment centres, which usually involve group exercises, presentations and psychometric testing.

You may find it worthwhile to try speculative applications to smaller and independent companies.

Professional development

Many of the larger retail companies have dedicated training stores. Graduate schemes are often well structured and cover all areas of retailing within the store. You may be assigned a mentor who is an experienced manager and who will oversee your training, offering support and guidance.

Training programmes are normally in-house and combine practical on-the-job, or work shadowing experience, with supplementary courses and workshops.

Short courses may offer:

  • training on technical aspects, such as accounts
  • interpersonal training, such as coaching and mentoring
  • structured behavioural training in influencing or facilitation skills.

Training programmes aim to give you an overview of the company through exposure to the various retailing areas. The length of training varies between nine months and three years. Many training programmes are flexible and can be tailored to your requirements; you will be expected to drive your own future in accordance with the needs of the business.

Companies may also support trainees to get further professional qualifications related to specific disciplines.

Career prospects

Most retail companies tend to review employees performance annually. Appraisals are an opportunity to discuss your progress with your line manager and consider what you want to achieve in the year ahead. Development is a two-way process, and you will also be expected to make a contribution to your own career development.

Promotion often requires mobility, and if you're working for a smaller chain there may be fewer promotional opportunities.

Progression typically includes:

  • moving to a larger store, possibly in another part of the country
  • managing a larger department
  • moving to an assistant store manager role.

With some organisations, graduates run their own departments within weeks and can manage smaller stores within 18 months.

Within three to five years, you can potentially move into senior retail management positions. You may use this store experience to manage larger and more complicated store environments or to progress into regional management.

The flexibility and size of many retail organisations means that it is possible to move into more specialist areas of the business and head office functions, such as customer service, training and operations management. You can also move between different types of retailers or to a wholesale supplier.