Career Exploration: Retail

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: January 17, 2011 - 9:57 AM

From management positions in corporate offices to back room support and logistics, retail offers behind-the-scenes opportunities aside from working a cash register. Entry-level openings abound as well, while e-commerce and specialty retailers may appeal to those with certain skill sets or personalities.

Working in retail doesn't mean simply running a cash register. From finding products that will go on store shelves to making sure those items get onto those shelves are among the usually unseen but often promising career opportunities retail has to offer.

Retail jobs fall into three broad categories: headquarters, operations and logistics, according to David Brennan, professor of marketing and co-director of the Institute for Retail at the University of St. Thomas.

Is retail right for you?

"It's either in your blood or not," Brennan said. "You have to have a passion for it, particularly for stores, for people connecting with people and helping them buy what they really want. You have to like what you're doing whether it's at the store level, the corporate level or in the backroom operations."

High-paying jobs are in the corporate headquarters. These positions deal with strategy and tactics as well as finding domestic and increasingly international sources of products.

Entry-level jobs such as junior buyer, business analyst or inventory analyst are a first step toward getting into the buying side of corporate retailing, Brennan said. Other headquarters positions include trend marketing and developing store plans detailing where and how to display merchandise.

At the store level, front-line operations jobs can lead to store management, where the pay typically is good and bonuses are possible. Entry-level jobs at big-box retailers typically start around $8 an hour to $10 an hour with full benefits, like at Costco, Brennan noted.

Logistics, which Brennan said retailers are increasingly emphasizing, involve moving and managing the movement of products from their source to a distribution center and on to stores.

Non-store retailing, or e-commerce, is growing at more than twice the rate of the retail sector as a whole, Brenna said, and is expected to continue to do so. Online retailers typically need people with information technology (IT) skills and hire more employees in logistics and distribution to operate efficiently.

Close to 75,000 Minnesotans were employed in retail in 2009 and the sector is expected to add roughly 5,000 jobs in the next 10 years, according to projections from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. That represents a growth rate of about 7 percent, which is close to the rate at which the state's economy is expected to expand in the next 10 years. Retail openings should be plentiful because of the high turnover in that sector, DEED spokesman Monte Hanson said.

The more entrepreneurially minded may find an alternative to big-box retail in small, independent specialty stores, said Scott Taylor, professor of small business management at South Central College in Mankato. One area to consider specializing in is customer relations management, particularly using e-mail and other electronic methods to cultivate relationships with customers.

"The big box thing has been done to death," Taylor said. "I think the growth in retail is in specialty retailers who have a unique look on the work, who have a story to tell and something about them that captures the imagination. They're willing to develop relationships with their customers, so customers feel bonded to them in some way."

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