Retail Careers in Fashion

by | March 31, 2009

Retail covers the sale of apparel and related goods and services in small quantities directly to consumers. In the rush for fashion jobs, the retail sector has emerged as a promising contender. Sears, Roebuck and Co., for example, has created the "Retail Executive Development Training Program" to recruit promising new professionals. Considered a retail milestone by many, the program targets 60 undergraduate campuses. After an eight- to 10-month training program, "executive trainees" handle up to $3 million in profit/loss responsibility. Some trainees have as many as 30 people reporting to them. Retailers such as Sears, Neiman Marcus, Federated and Meryvn's offer candidates a nice deal -- signficant management responsibility in a relatively short amount of time.

Some larger retail programs have established training programs. The Gap hires recent college graduates for its Retail Management Program. The program is based in San Francisco over a seven-month period. New hires gain experience in merchandising, planning and production. After successfully completing the program, the graduates have an opportunity to work full-time in the brand (i.e. Old Navy, Banana Republic, Gap Baby, etc.) in which they trained -- and are placed based on Gap's needs, as well as each graduate's skills and interests.

Jobs

Retail clerk: Assists the consumer in the purchase of products and services.
Store manager: Manages the store operations and supervises the clerks.
Marketing: Works on store advertisements and catalogs.
Inventory planner: Sets monetary limits on the retail buyers' purchasing power based on historical and market analysis.
Asset protection: Minimizes store losses and track fraud and theft.
Logistics: Works with stores and buyers to optimize supply-chain.
Real estate: Manages stores that vary in size, location, and layout to keep stores new. Responsibilities may include construction and building services management.

The Scoop

Many people have a less-than-positive view of retailing. "I didn't spend four years in college to work in a store!" is a frequent gripe. This negative reaction belies the fact that retail is a good place to start or build a fashion career. Because jobs selling fine design can be extremely lucrative, retail is becoming more attractive to college graduates. Larger stores are often the best places to start since some offer standardized training programs. Comments an insider: "One of retail's biggest problems is that there is no standard training pattern. Many retailers wait for people to get on the-job-training elsewhere and then cannibalize their competitors." Despite the problem of unstructured training, retail has one indisputably stellar element: almost anyone is eligible. "We look for employees with bachelor's degrees," says an industry source. "School isn't very important. Major isn't very important. Many people who specialized in business, finance or liberal arts will do just fine."

On the corporate side of fashion, opportunities exist in retail buying, planning, merchandising and product development. College grads typically start out as trainees and work their way up, following established or somewhat meandering career paths. Talented and dedicated new hires, especially in large companies or department stores, can expect regular promotions -- up to divisional management roles. There are also opportunities in store management, finance and human resources. More creative jobs in retail include catalog production (graphics and copywriting) and window and display design.

Image

While some insiders laud department stores, others attest to the value of small designer companies. "Department stores are out," declares one adamant source. "Smaller, more prestigious retailers -- CK, Armani, Tommy Hilfiger -- are the way to go. Department stores are stuffy and they convey a feeling of being 'average.' The people I know working on the selling floor of department stores want to get out." Underlying this comment are issues of prestige and class, two prominent -- although seldom discussed -- aspects of retail. Fashion, and retail in particular, is an image-conscious sector in which an attractive appearance, up-to-date style, impeccable grooming and an air of affluence are important. "High-end retail is a glamour job," says an insider. "The positions are high-profile and low-paying. The people who work in retail are often highly educated and parentally subsidized. The job becomes a lifestyle of fashionable wardrobes, cocktail parties, elite crowds and making the right friends." If you detect an edge of superficiality, insiders confirm it. "High-end retail jobs are often aimed at high-class young women," says a source. "They deal with a wealthy and prominent clientele. Some of the girls are old school -- out to find a rich husband."

Employees may have to invest thousands of dollars on a wardrobe to wear to work. In fact, most high-end retailers require their employees to wear only their label. One contact at Ralph Lauren says she must have her work apparel approved by the company, a cumbersome and expensive process. "For a job that pays by the hour," explains a contact, "you may have to invest quite a bit of money." This dress can be very expensive, even though employees receive discounts and supplementary commissions.

Fortunately, selling takes on new meaning when employees are dealing with celebrities and high-powered execs with money to burn. Those who excel in retail know how to build relationships with their customers -- "setting aside" new arrivals or sending cards and little gifts (paid for by the company, of course). Wealthy clients may need pampering, but the insiders say the money compensates for the labor. "We're talking about people who walk into a store and buy the same outfit in five different colors," says an insider.

Filed Under: Job Search


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