Ringing Up A Career In Retail

Avid consumerism has made this industry a new option for aggressive job seekers. Here's how you can register a good career move.

buyer of patio furniture, then senior buyer of health aids, diapers and household chemicals. For Tucker, his job was more than sales, it was knowing how key retail elements–such as advertising and distribution–all fit together. By looking at the retailing big picture, Tucker bought products that would be easy to promote and frequently ran special promotions to move them. His successful marketing strategies (combined with the long hours he clocked each day) did not go unnoticed by upper management.

Three years later, he was tapped as director of merchandise planning for the 800-store chain’s home and electronics department. Today, he is one of the $20 billion company’s 13 divisional vice presidents and general merchandise managers, overseeing a staff of 35 who buy all the chain’s books, videos and music. “I’ve been fortunate to find my niche,” says 42- year-old Tucker. “I tell everyone thinking of a career in retailing that all stores are not the same. Just like any corporation, each one has a culture. Make sure theirs matches your personality.”

PLAYING CATCH UP
By its own admission, the retail sector has done a poor job of including and retaining African Americans in its ranks. In positions of senior- level management, blacks make up less than 3% of the total, estimates Kirk Palmer, founder of the New York-based executive search firm Kirk Palmer & Associates, which specializes in the retail industry. “Blacks are invisible in this industry,” adds Toni Wilson, senior director of global diversity at Gap Inc., based in San Francisco. “This makes the job
of attracting African Americans with the appropriate skills that much harder.”

Several industry leaders are out to change that by putting their money where their good intentions are. Sears Roebuck, Target, J.C. Penney and others have contributed $15,000-$50,000 each to initiate the Center for Retail Management, a comprehensive retail curriculum at Florida A&M University. Launched in 1994 as an elective minor, the university and participating retailers hope to see the center become a degree program within the next two years.

Dozens of schools across the country offer specialized retail studies programs, including the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University and Indiana University. In addition, many two-year programs in fashion merchandising and buying are offered at such schools as New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and Parson’s School of Design.

The industry is also one that welcomes mid-career professionals with sales or management experience who are looking to ply their talents in another industry. Yet, many people find themselves in retail careers as a result of happenstance rather than planning.

No one knows that better than Ann-Marie Campbell, one of Home Depot’s 150 national district managers. In 1985 while a student at Florida International University, she took a job as a cashier to make extra money. Her astute customer service skills and ability to quell almost any customer problem set her apart from her peers. Within a year, she was offered a department manager’s post. As the do-it-yourself warehouse retailer began its aggressive growth, so did her chances for advancement. Campbell, an accounting

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