Roll with the Punches


Are My Retail Management Skills Valuable Enough to Translate Into a New Career?


Are My Retail Management Skills Valuable Enough to Translate Into a New Career?

Today the retail world was shocked (perhaps not) that Toys R Us will be closing roughly 20% of its US stores this year. After an eventful 2017 that saw major Department Store closings (Macy’s, J.C. Penney, and Sears to name a few) Toys announced today they would close up to 182 of its stores by mid-Q2. Being a retail man (I’ve been in retail management for the vast majority of my career) retail closures always disappoint me and the news from Toys is no different. The difference today is that many of my respected peers work for Toys, and that saddens me greatly.

I had a lengthy conversation with one of those peers, and a comment from that conversation reminded me of my experience from a few years ago. The comment was “I’ve been in retail my entire life, and I want to do more than just retail, but I am worried my skills will not go beyond the retail world”. Based on plenty of conversations with other retail managers, this is a common concern. Frankly, this was a thought that troubled me as I sought a departure from retail management. I get it: long, monotonous hours inside four walls can eat at you over time, and can have you yearn for fulfillment in a non-retail career. Will I have the ability to leave though? I made the transition from retail manager two years ago. It was scary at first, not knowing if my skills would translate to my new role (General Manager for a vending, catering, and wholesale dessert company), and being totally out of my comfort zone. Good news: the reality I discovered is that many retail skills I had learned transferred rather well.

Of all of my retail skills, PROBLEM RESOLUTION has been the most useful in my new role. We all have stories of diffusing intensely difficult situations with a customer. In retail, you really get put through the grinder. We’ve all been insulted (the one that sticks with me is being called Roly-Poly) and perhaps even physically threatened, but those stressful situations taught us some valuable lessons. Disagreeing amicably, not taking things personally, listening, and finding ways to fix a major issue are all valuable tools that translate beyond the retail world.

One of the greatest assets in the retail manager’s arsenal is RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. We all had regulars: our customers that came in, chatted in the aisles, and asked how things were. We want our customers to be happy, but even more than that, we want them to be champions for our business. In today’s incredibly competitive arena a customer’s loyalty is really put to the test. For many customers, the only reason they choose the blue store over the red store is the friendly and familiar faces. For a retail manager, gaining loyalty takes time and commitment. In the business world, building a strong relationship in a friendly manner may very well be the only reason a vendor decides to work with your company. Furthermore, those “regulars” will once again become champions for your business and pave the way for future business dealings and contact growth.

Lastly, a skill that is wildly valuable (and frankly disappearing rapidly) is PEOPLE MANAGEMENT. I view managing people as an underrated skill that can really only be grown through experiences. Many of us have had upwards of one hundred employees at any given time (more for you big boxers during Q4). While that may not seem all that incredible, that is one hundred personalities that you have to manage, and one hundred folks that need to be led. They need direction, nurturing, patience, attention, and a friendly face. The difference between wearing the orange shirt versus the red shirt for them is not a whole lot, so creating a positive work environment is absolutely critical and also laborious. Your experiences managing people over time will translate well in any organization and in any management role.

There are many questions that retail managers will ask themselves when considering leaving the retail world. Will my skills translate? Will I be taken seriously? Do I have any skills that these non-retail companies would be interested in? Based on my experience of transitioning, the answer I have found to these questions is YES. Retail managers possess a great deal of valuable skills that will correlate well in the business world.

Now for a little advice: take a chance on the career you want to be in. Your experiences and skills matter, and they make you an excellent candidate.

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