Retail Clerk: Assists the consumer in the purchase of products and services
Retail Buyer: Purchases new lines of merchandise
Inventory Planner: Sets monetary limits on the retail buyers' purchasing power
Product Developer: Leads all stages of production to see a design through the most cost-effective manufacturing process
Store Manager: Watches the shop and manages the clerks
Showroom Coordinator: Creates showroom set-ups to dazzle and entice shoppers
~ 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 of the fastest growing job sectors today. Because jobs selling haute couture 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." Even if retail isn't where a fashion applicant wants to be, it's a great place to start. One source calls retail not only the largest job market in fashion, but also in the country. ~
On the corporate side of fashion retail are opportunities 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 distribution. More creative jobs in retail include catalog production (graphics and copywriting) and window and display design.
While some insiders laud department stores, others attest to the value of small designer companies. "Department stores are out!" declares one source adamantly. "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 styling, 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." ~
Paying to Work?
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." The necessity of costly apparel can be draining to the wallet, 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.