and business major, ended up leaving college in order to take advantage of the opportunities. Today, she heads the operations and merchandising of five Home Depot locations in the Miami area. “Retail is, first and foremost, a people business,” says Campbell, 32. “If you keep that in the front of your mind, you can do extremely well.”
In the intense battle for market share, the area of service is one in which more and more retailers are trying to distinguish themselves. Seattle-based Nordstrom has built a national reputation on providing such complimentary perquisites as live piano music, valet parking in some locations, personal shopping and the industry’s most liberal return policy. Employees are encouraged to do “whatever it takes to please the customer,” says Delena Sunday, the company’s director of diversity affairs. “We basically look for personable people, regardless of their experience level, hire them and let them go. People don’t thrive here if they need a lot of structure,” adds Sunday, who began her Nordstrom career as a salesperson in 1980. “There aren’t a lot of rules.”
In such an environment where operations are decentralized with separate buying and management staffs serving each region, a tacit rule for anyone looking to advance is “be aggressive and be visible,” says Tim Gary. The former Kinney Shoes sales manager took the same position in Nordstrom’s highly touted shoe department in 1981. His savvy knowledge of the women’s shoe market gave him an advantage over his peers. Within three months, he was the assistant manager of the department, and no job was too small for Gary. He straightened racks and helped his supervisor with all different types of projects. All the while, he asked questions and learned all he could about the market. A year later, he was promoted to manager and after two years, became a shoe buyer. Gary, now 40, says he was never formally interviewed for any of the promotions.
“I just let everyone I reported to know I wanted a career, not a job,” says Gary, who has a degree in business from California State at Fullerton. “I did my best and when positions became available, I got the slots.” Since 1985, Gary has moved to four cities, including Brea, California, and Vienna, Virginia. Two years ago, he transferred to Denver to manage Nordstrom’s first site in the Rocky Mountain state, becoming its most senior-ranking executive. With Nordstrom’s strict “promote from within” policy, Gary’s responsibilities are most certain to increase, particularly as Nordstrom’s Colorado-area expansion continues to unfold.
A VOLATILE HISTORY
Of course, not everyone in the industry realizes such promising career goals, and few can project the industry’s employment climate 20 years from now. The industry is now riding the wave of a healthy economy and strong consumer confidence. But retailing has and will always be a cyclical field, tied to economic trends such as housing starts, unemployment and, often, merely the fickle winds of fashion.
Ten years ago, stories like Gary’s or Campbell’s may have been virtually unheard of. The entire