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Retail Management: Your complete guide to starting your career

Sep 9, 2017 Kate Lopaze

Retail Management: Your complete guide to starting your career

If you’re thinking about a career in retail management, either because you’ve put in your time in the entry-level retail trenches and want to move up in the field or you’re considering a career change, you probably have a general idea of what to expect. After all, retail is not for the faint of heart. However, there’s a difference between working in retail and making it your career, so if you’re considering taking that step to level up, we have the info you’ll need to help make that decision.

How will you know if it’s a good fit?

If you’ve gotten this far, it’s likely you’ve already found retail to be a good fit for you, on paper. But what are the qualities you’ll need to have as a retail manager? Good personality counts for a lot here. Some common traits found in successful retail managers include:
  • Strong customer focus. The customers may or may not always be right, but they will always be your priority. Managers who care about providing excellent customer service, even under stressful circumstances, do well.
  • Leadership skills. The manager will be in charge of other employees as well as store operations, so it’s important to be someone who can step up and lead rather than melting into the crowd.
  • The ability to make peace. Whether it’s dealing with employee drama or customer issues, at some point the manager will have to be the one who fights off irritation or frustration and placates different kinds of personalities to make sure things are resolved well.
If you struggle in any of these areas, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a good retail manager, but it might mean putting in extra work to create a successful professional persona. Being part of retail management means being able to navigate the challenges of keeping everything running smoothly while also accommodating corporate/business goals and customer needs.

What is the day-to-day like?

Retail managers are typically responsible for the daily operations of a brick-and-mortar store—whether it’s a big box giant like Walmart or your Mom and Pop hardware store down the street. Basically, every store needs someone to ensure that sales goals are being met, staff are being managed, the store is operating well, and that customer needs are being met. A retail manager’s tasks may include:
  • Opening and closing the store
  • Hiring and managing staff members
  • Managing the daily employee schedule
  • Analyzing sales and setting sales goals for the store
  • Creating and maintaining store budgets
  • Analyzing and coordinating inventory
  • Creating store displays
  • Working with and reporting to senior management in the company (for example, a head office or a store owner)
  • Communicating financial information
  • Working with vendors and suppliers
  • Ensuring that the store is clean, organized, and well-maintained
  • Monitoring expenses and store losses (security)
  • Handling escalated customer service issues
Retail managers are responsible for making sure everything gets done in a store, and that it’s done well. Retail managers can also expect to work long weeks (potentially more than 40 hours), on varied schedules. After all, stores are open all week long, and increasingly on holidays. This is not your standard 9-to-5 in a cubicle gig.

What types of retail management jobs are out there?

Some of the most common retail management job opportunities include: Although most retail management positions are still in what we would think of as “normal” stores, the retail landscape is definitely changing. So in addition to the traditional store manager roles (showing up at a specific store and making sure that physical operations are going according to plan), there will be increasing opportunities to manage digital retail as well. Managers who are well-versed in supply chain logistics or online sales have versatile skill sets that could help them advance in our increasingly digital economy.

What education will you need?

One of the best things about getting started retail is that you don’t need to get an extensive education before you jump in. The retail path often starts with a high school degree and on-the-job training, and then growing experience as you take on more responsibility. Hands-on experience is often more valuable in this field than a specific education credential. To become a retail manager, however, an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or course in sales, business, or management can help you get to the management level faster. If you don’t have a degree, don’t worry—there’s still a path to retail management. You can take your existing experience and use that to create longer-term goals. You can also stay and grow within a certain company, using the promotion ladder to get where you want to be. At every level of your retail career, make sure you’re learning everything you possibly can about how your store (and retail in general) works, because this is an education you can’t get elsewhere—and you never know when that information can help boost you to the next level.

What skills will you need?

As mentioned before, retail managers have to be able to juggle many different obligations and tasks. These core skills will serve you very well in a retail management career.
Communication skills
Managers have to be able to communicate clearly and effectively with all sorts of different people: employees, upper management, suppliers or vendors, and employees. That means being able to adapt a message to the right audience and strike the right tone as necessary. Listening skills are also essential, so that potential problems can be understood and addressed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Problem solving
Every retail manager is going to deal with problems—problems with employees, problems with customers, problems in getting the right merchandise, problems with security, you name it. If your solution to a direct challenge is to pull inward, turtle-style, and hope it goes away, this job might not be for you. Instead, retail managers should be able to see a problem clearly, and be able to come up with a workable solution—even if it’s not a perfect one.
Results focus
It’s not enough to keep a store going—managers will also be responsible for performing well according to different metrics, whether it’s a store’s financial performance, sales goals, employee goals, customer feedback, etc. It’s crucial to understand what these criteria are that you’ll need to meet and focus your attention on hitting them.
As mentioned before, the retail manager will often need to step in and be the grownup in cases of conflict or customer complaints. A professional demeanor at all times is very necessary.
Math skills
Retail managers are often responsible for extensive reporting and analysis when it comes to a store’s finances and budgets, so being able to do the math efficiently and accurately is important.
Negotiation skills
Whether it’s trying to create an employee schedule without causing a revolt or trying to get a better deal from vendors, knowing how to negotiate your way out of any situation is a powerful tool for a retail manager to have.
Engaging people skills
Retail managers are not solo acts, so they have to be able to inspire their teams to do work together for the common good of the store. Fear and anger are not the best motivational tools around, so it’s essential to have the skills to be able to get people to want to do their best work—and to motivate them when they don’t necessarily want to do it.

What is the potential career path?

“Retail management” can seem like an end goal in and of itself, so if you haven’t thought much yet about the nuances of what you can do once you get to that point, you’re not alone. Once you get a certain level of management experience, those skills are very transferable all over the retail landscape. You may decide to specialize in a particular area, like one of the following: Once you have skills and experience, you may find that different management opportunities may open up even within the same company.

What kind of salary can you expect?

According to, retail managers can make a pretty wide range of salaries, with a median between $48,091 and $65,734. Specific salary depends on factors like experience and location.

What is the outlook for retail management?

Retail itself may be changing with the times, but the need for retail isn’t. Companies will always be selling goods, products, and services, and will always need qualified leaders to help them do that in the most efficient and profitable ways possible. Retail management is a career with solid operational foundations, and will continue to be an in-demand career path for those with the experience, leadership skills, and the commitment to customer service. If you're looking for help with your resume, you can also download free templates from our Resume Library to get started. retail management

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