What does a Retail Manager REALLY do as a job?
After several years in the business, I have come to the conclusion that the role of the retail manager is one of the most misunderstood in the panorama of the shop-related professions.
When you try to explain to someone that you are a retail manager, people generally come up with something like “so, you are an agent?”, “you are a visual merchandiser?”, “you tell the staff what to sell?”, or a varied series of assumptions in between. It is quite rare, even sometimes in the induced industry itself, to meet people with a clear understanding of what our job really is, and what it truly involves.
I imagine that most of the misunderstanding comes from the fact that, in the end, we began to speak about professional retail knowledge only a few years ago, when new models of distribution began to appear (fast fashion, increased international expansion, the growth of omnichannel strategies, etc), and all those who had to lead retail before, were obliged to sort of “open the way” and try to navigate on sight in this new scenario, without specific and proper understanding of what the modern approach could really be; there is now a strong need, in my opinion, to stress the importance of the real expertise that a retail manager requires, and due to the constantly evolving market and the challenges that we face, it is more and more inefficient to drive such a business without proper knowledge and experience.
Nowadays, even inside very well structured companies, the retail department and the related managers are often considered, unfortunately, as a sort of “second hand” management line; running a full retail business is instead, in reality, quite similar to being a CEO of a big company, due to its complexity and intricacy!!
Also, in a way, a retail manager is often seen as a “source of problems”: while several company departments have a clear and easily manageable structure of costs and profits, the retail department is one of the sectors with the most unpredictable ROI, considering that the final customer and the destination market are often hardly controllable variables, and that there is often a constant need for new investments (such as store openings, hirings, techniological tools, etc.) with a very uncertain trend with regards to incomes; and the finance department generally does not like this so much! :-)
A network of stores is a huge entity which comprehends many different areas: hr, real estate, product, visual merchandising, sales, marketing, communication, logistics, IT, analysis, strategy, and much much more!
A retail manager must be expert enough in all these fields, in order to orchestrate all the different departments in pursueing the correct goal and work together in the same direction, even in structured organisations with extremely specialised functions.
The work and educational path of a retail manager should thus include on the field experience with stores, as well as in-deph study of topics like finance, logistics, hr, etc. There must be a strong people-oriented attitude, together with a personal deep curiosity in several different subjects; there must be the capability to switch from the global view to the detailed analysis in the shortest time as possible, and then back to the main strategies and guidelines. Team working capabilities are essential, as well as diplomatic and interpersonal skills, ability to work fast and under pressure, genuine interest for innovation and improvement. And a lot of patience, obviously!
Flexibility, open-mindedness, wide background culture, hands-on attitude, multi disciplinarity. And smile. :-)
Many of the characteristics that I think a retail manager should have, and which make this job so complex, challenging, but at the same time engaging and satisfying.
I am eager to read your feedback about this topic!
What do you think the skills and capabilities of a retail manager should be? how do you value this role in the store-related jobs panorama?