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Preparing for a Successful Retail Management Career

Read about retail management careers geared to the fashion industry.
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Proud of the business she's built

If you enjoy a job with lots of variety and a strong focus on working with the public, retail management could be just the right fit.

Owning or operating a retail business is one of the riskiest moves you can make, but with the right vision and leadership, it can be a successful venture. Many people who strike out on their own—whether it's in creating businesses like a café, a vintage clothing shop or a specialty store—start by working for other people in retail.

Many people also stay with companies but move up from sales positions to management ones, which offer greater pay and more autonomy. And in today's retail economy, all of these practices apply to online sales, as well. Fortunately, fashion marketing and management have lots of career options—and now more than ever school programs are geared to provide a well-rounded education.

Making the Sale

The basic foundations for success in retail management are:

  • A strong grasp of sales principles
  • Knowledge of sales and marketing trends
  • Strong customer service practices
  • Knowledge of bookkeeping and accounting
  • Motivational and management skills

What You'll Learn Your School Program

Often, retail management college programs are coupled with fashion design curriculum to create blended degrees such as an associate's or bachelor's in fashion and retail management and marketing. Earning a certificate, diploma or associate's degree in these areas will gain you access to entry-level management positions in retail. Many students are already working in retail and may move up in the ranks of their business organically, supplementing their real-world experience with the extra knowledge they've learned in school. In particular, college courses can deepen your skills with accounting, bookkeeping, marketing and forecasting, and management.

Going further, bachelor's degrees in retail management immerse students in preparation for successful store-based, online and non-store retail operations. You'll learn strategies for e-commerce, store facilities, and direct marketing. Areas of study include:

  • Visual merchandising
  • Finance
  • Human resource management and logistics
  • Inventory planning
  • Business etiquette and negotiations
  • Business law practices
  • Retail buying
  • Sales and event promotion
  • Brand marketing

On the Job

Products and people intersect in the day-to-day operations of a retail manager. It's up to you to keep things flowing smoothly. You'll work hard to ensure the satisfaction of customers, employees, suppliers and vendors—no small feat! Retail managers may open and close their stores, work on a fixed schedule or at varying times. A typical workday may begin with office duties including maintenance of your financial records and transactions.

You may prepare for incoming and outgoing shipments, order items or delegate similar tasks to buyers and other employees. You'll arrange employee schedules and assist with questions and concerns as they arise. "Putting out fires" is another role that managers must be willing to fill. With a firm foundation of knowledge, experience and a cool head, you'll be able to meet challenges and move on to the next task of the day.

As a retail manager in an e-commerce environment, you may interact with dozens of vendors and suppliers daily, as well as customers, network administrators, designers, copywriters and all others who contribute to the workflow of the retail website. Strength with spreadsheets, meticulous organization and excellent communication skills will serve online retail managers well.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics current Occupational Outlook Handbook (BLS), employment of retail workers is expected to grow -2.1% through 2031, which is less than average for all occupations. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. As the economy grows, businesses will focus on generating new sales through stronger sales management. Competition—especially online—is fierce, so superb strategic thinking skills will help you rise to the top in retail management. The ability to motivate and support an excellent sales team, maintaining a low turnover, is highly important.

The BLS also reports that growth is expected to be stronger for sales managers involved in business-to-business sales, rather than business-to-consumer sales, because the rise of online shopping reduces the need for sales calls to individual customers. Competition for retail management jobs is strong, so learn all that you can—both in the classroom and in your internship. You'll be well-equipped to carry these skills to the floor.

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Fashion Merchandising Degree & Career Guide