Retailers – here's to a cracking Christmas!

I know exactly where I was on November 29th 2004 – I suspect you probably don’t!

 

I know this because it was the release date for Band Aid 20 and I was running a store for HMV in London. I suspect most other current and former HMV employees will also remember as it’s one of those ‘once a decade’ releases you don’t forget in the entertainment industry.

 

At various times of the year and on key dates I can’t help but reminisce about my time in retail – about what I enjoyed and perhaps more importantly, what I learnt at the time. I spent close to ten years in retail which is a shade longer than I have been in recruitment and so I still tend to think of myself as a Retailer first and foremost.

 

Consequently, when key dates come around I can’t help but think about the fun times and as I say, what I learnt from the experience. Big product releases always created a great buzz in store and at Head Office. There was always a palpable sense of excitement both from the customers as well as the staff. I particularly enjoyed the buying element (we bought 70% of the stock at store level) and really driving specific products. When Band Aid came out my team really got behind the release and they felt like they were giving something back every time they sold a single. It really brought the team together and if I remember correctly, they sold around 10,000 units in the first week. At the time it was an extraordinary achievement given that most singles were selling a couple of hundred at best (that was when the physical music market was really starting to tank). It really brought the team together too and gave a lot of people a sense of self-belief, in that if they really bought in to something (in this case it had a charitable basis), they could over-achieve and significantly outperform our peer group. As we know in life, success breeds success.

 

I have a great job now but I don’t mind admitting that I miss the buzz of retail. If you have spoken to me before you’ll have sensed that. Retail is a fantastic industry and while it is a tough job I’m sure you will agree with me that it is highly rewarding.

 

This coming Saturday used to be the first really big one in the lead up to Christmas when I was at HMV and generally signalled 6 weeks of utter carnage!

 

For those of you in Retail, good luck!

 

Phones 4 U – you will be missed

As a recruiter I can’t think of another Retailer that has as divisive a reputation as Phones 4 U. Sure, there are strong opinions about the people that work for Tesco, Boots, B&Q, Debenhams or M&S, positive and negative. Indeed we recruiters are absolutely guilty of making assumptions about people that work for certain companies. If you have only worked at M&S there is a good chance that you are great at managing politics, you will have managed large teams in a complex environment but you are also probably somewhat process driven.* If you work for Aldi or Lidl** you are paid above the market average to work LONG hours and you have little autonomy in comparison to other Retailers – you are however highly sought after.

As for P4U, well I probably don’t need to tell you what the stereotypes are about the people that work(ed) there. Aggressive, hard, sharp, commercial, pace driven, black & white and highly results orientated. Most experienced recruiters will be fully aware that, broadly speaking, there are indeed two stereotypes, the first is of the guys who were at the business in the early days through to around 2012 and secondly, the guys who were at the business after this point. There are of course a lot of people that straddled these two eras. The working culture at P4U prior to 2012 was edgy and highly aggressive with a horrendous staff turnover in triple figures. Just to be clear, this is the market perception and is not true of everyone that worked there. Post 2012, that turnover had reduced to less than 35% (I am happy to be corrected on that figure), which is relatively healthy in comparison. Indeed the business had one of the best apprenticeship schemes in retail offering fantastic careers to school leavers.

I have represented candidates from P4U throughout my recruitment career and whenever submitting a candidate with said business on their CV I have always had to justify their presence on the shortlist. In fact I could probably reel off a fair few people who have carefully erased their often short P4U career from their CV…but that is another story! However, I have always known that when I have picked up a brief for a sales driven candidate whom will drive change quickly I have known where to look. You know what you are going to get with people from P4U, they know how to sell and they know how to manage sales people. They are relentless, motivated and work at pace. In a growth economy this is essential. More and more of the briefs I am picking up from clients are for candidates that can drive growth, there is little mention of cost reduction at the moment. Like M&S and Tesco, P4U has provided a happy hunting ground for companies looking for a leader with a particular edge.

Indeed I have spoken to a few contacts that have, perhaps for the first time, had the honour of working with people from P4U in the last two weeks. They have been stunned by the quality of the people. I suspect that the old reputation of P4U people will be steadily replaced by the truth; P4U has been a breeding ground for high quality talent. The loss of this talent pipeline will be keenly felt in the years to come.

*This is the stereotype in the market and not always true!

**This is the stereotype in the market, currently, albeit one that has softened in recent years.

 

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Will 2014 see a significant improvement in the Retail and Hospitality jobs market?

By Russell Adams,AdMore Recruitment

2013 has certainly been a fascinating year from a recruitment perspective and I thought it would be interesting to look back at the Retail and Hospitality jobs market and see what the market will have to offer next year. One thing is clear the year is ending very differently to how it began!

Unfortunately 2013 started like much like 2012 ended with yet another major retailer going into administration. This time it was the turn of Jessops, another business affected by structural changes to the high street, suffering the same fate as Comet and Game before it. It turned out to be a very bad week for Retail with the news that HMV was also going into administration. This and a series of other administrations affected recruitment as a large volume of candidates hit the market at the same time. Fortunately both businesses continue to trade albeit on a much smaller scale than previously. These challenges continued, with Blockbuster and Barratt’s amongst others suffering later in the year.

However during the course of 2013 there has been a steady improvement in the economy which has had a positive impact on confidence in the market. This has been particularly telling since the summer where the data has grown in strength and the signs are suggesting that the recovery is now taking hold. But how is this impacting retail? Interestingly, I think for many that confidence is coming from what people have seen outside their business as opposed to necessarily what they are seeing within their own business. Talking to clients and candidates in the lead up to Christmas, the positivity in the press is not necessarily being felt by retailers as consumers continue to face tangible pressure from the overall cost of living.

Ultimately recruitment is driven by either the creation of new roles or more predominantly through the movement of candidates between roles. Naturally the more people move the more vacancies are created and the market as a whole improves. An increase in confidence has driven a significant improvement in activity in the second half of this year. Secondly, the fast moving and changing nature of retail and hospitality will always drive recruitment activity. As confidence has grown and conditions improve more businesses are investing to keep themselves relevant in the market.

Below are some interesting developments over the course of 2013 that have helped drive recruitment activity. For some this has been through new store openings programmes, while for others it may be restructuring to ensure the business is in the best possible shape to benefit from the improving conditions.

A review of 2013

In the first half of the year the food sector was rocked by the horsemeat scandal. As always given the competitive nature of the market there have been significant developments for a number of businesses. Morrison’s signing a deal with Ocado was major news complimenting their expansion into the convenience sector where they now have over 50 stores. It has also been a busy year for Tesco as they continue their turnaround plan. During 2013 they diversified, acquiring the Giraffe business and investing in other retail concepts. Sainsbury’s has continued to outperform its peers and invest heavily in its successful convenience business and the Phone shop. The discounters have also had a good year particularly Aldi who have ramped up their store opening programme. Waitrose has also set it sights high with plans to triple the size of the business over the next decade increasing the store portfolio beyond the 300 stores it has currently. M & S Simply food has also announced plans to open an additional 150 stores over the next 3 years. Martin McColl the convenience operator is looking at a potential stock market float to fund further expansion.

In the specialist sector, The Garden Centre Group has had a busy year under new owners Terra Firma. A recent acquisition of an independent garden centre group in addition to hiring a number of senior leaders, sets the business up for its next phase of growth. The weather and improving house market provided a much needed boost to the DIY sector which saw B & Q restructure their in-store management teams and performance across the key players starting to improve.

The mobile phones and technology sector also saw a number of changes this year. Phones 4 U continued its expansion programme and O2 went through a major restructure to ensure it could capitalise on its strong market position. Vodafone has also just announced it plans to increase its store portfolio by 250 stores adding to the 380 stores it currently operates.

Despite an improving market the Discounters continue to go from strength to strength with both 99p stores and Poundland announcing aggressive expansion plans over the next few years. The latter is looking at a potential floatation in order to raise £200-£300m to help fund significant expansion.

The Primark juggernaut continues at pace as the business performed strongly in 2013 and they continue to expand. However, fellow discounter Republic was a casualty in 2013 going into administration in February. Wilkinson’s have also been in the press as they restructure the business following changes to their board.

Ikea is also continuing its expansion programme with stores planned in Reading, Exeter and Sheffield.

In Hospitality the world of coffee in the UK market continues to grow with expansion from most of the major operators. Starbucks has been backing its franchise business and continues to expand and Costa has further developed its core business and Express. It looks like 2014 could be the year the competition really hots up as newcomer Harris + Hoole start a rapid expansion programme both on the High Street and also within Tesco stores.

The burger market has also been in the headlines this year with a number of new entrants arriving in the UK. Shake Shack and Five Guys hope to take the market by storm competing against Byron which will continue to expand under its new owners. Within the restaurant sector there continues to be growth as brands such as Nando’s and Wagamama open additional sites. Whilst the year has been challenging, operators have been performing strongly in the lead up to Christmas.

Clearly these are just a few of the positive and the odd negative changes happening in the market but as can be seen there is certainly a lot going on in 2014.

So what will 2014 bring?

Recruitment wise the year has certainly finished with momentum. As I mentioned above the positivity in the press in not necessarily being felt by retailers particularly on the high street. With just a few days left to go it will be interesting to see who the winners and losers are and the impact this has on their plans for next year. I think irrespective of how strong Christmas turns out to be, many people who have sat tight over the last couple of years will look at 2014 as the year to make a move.

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5 Retail Twitter feeds that will make you smile

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development. 

I was inspired to write this blog after discovering the ‘@AreaManagerGuy’ Twitter account. Twitter is filled with great information and can provide you with an incredible amount of ideas. I have to admit though that I have become increasingly drawn to the more humourous accounts, a bit of Social media light relief. Some of these are getting increasing amounts of exposure but I thought I would highlight a few for those that are new to Twitter or only occasionally use their account:

Here are my top 5 Retail Twitter feeds to get you started:

Steve Steveson - @AreaManagerGuy

My favourite feed by a country mile. Mixing up banter with his wife alongside classic retail quotes @AreaManagerGuy says all those things that every Retail Store Manager has heard before...but couldn't quite believe at the time! The food retail equivalent of TV's Phoneshop. 3769 followers can't be wrong! @WHS_Carpet

A twitter account devoted entirely to highlighting carpet horror stories in WH Smith stores. With 2911 followers and lots of independent contributions I would imagine the joke wears a little thin at WHS HQ! Scan down the feed and you can quickly see how WH Smith has consistently kept profits up!

WaterstonesOxfordSt - @WstonesOxfordSt

 A genuine Retail consumer account with a great sense of humour. The guys behind this account manage to combine some good marketing information with lots of sarcasm. Not the lowest form of wit on this occasion.

#KeepingChristmasGoing - @Dresserman

A hashtag curated by Steve Dresser, KeepingChristmasGoing is exactly what it sounds like. A collection of observations and photos of Retailers who just can’t let go of Christmas. It has been a little light on activity over the last couple of months but is sure to build again from January to May!

Paddy Power - @PaddyPower

Like ‘em or loathe ‘em the Bookmakers are here to stay. Paddy Power have pulled off a string of publicity stunts and their Twitter feed is very edgy. If you are a Sports fan you won’t be able to help yourself but smile.

As always, if you have any favourite feeds let us know in the comments below.

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Retail job prospects – what the Retail Choice Retail Employment Survey says about the market.

By Russell Adams,AdMore Recruitment

The latest Retail Choice employment report certainly makes for some interesting reading. Before I give an overview of some of its key findings I thought it necessary to provide some further context. It is really important to highlight that the figures compiled reflect the period from January to June 2013.Whilst I have commented on the Retail Choice figures previously I think now more than ever there is a changing picture in the employment market. Whilst the report reflects our own experience in the first six months of the year, what is of particular interest is what has happened to employment activity in the last 2 months in terms of increasing activity - a point I will discuss later.

Probably not surprising to those that have been on the retail employment market in the last 6 months is that the overall number of vacancies posted declined by some 14% which was accompanied by an increase in the number of applications per job of 11%. To put this into perspective, these vacancy levels on Retail Choice are back to the recessionary levels seen in 2009. Some vacancy areas held up better than others but it is fair to say that during the first 6 months of 2013 it was harder securing a job in retail than the corresponding period of 2012. The reasons for the overall market decline have been well commented on in terms of recessionary effects and the changing economics of retail (with a move to e-commerce and m- commerce) which have lead to fewer physical stores needing less staff and management.

As a result of the above, the specialisms like e-commerce and marketing have seen increases in vacancy numbers but it is in operational retail roles where the decline has been more dramatic. Store Manager vacancies for example have fallen some 15% whilst application rates have increased by 19% showing just how competitive the market has been.

So where are we now? Well the last couple of months have seen a flurry of more positive data coming through from pretty much every angle. Retail data from the BRC has been very positive with July seeing the strongest sales increase since 2006 and improving footfall. In line with this is broader economic data, for example that GDP is improving whilst unemployment falls. There certainly appears to have been a boost to consumer confidence further underpinned by the critically important housing market. The weather has provided a further boost in comparison to the washout that we experienced last year.

I am hesitant to say the retail recruitment market has definitely turned for a number of reasons. Firstly, as a country and as individuals we are still in a position of considerable debt and so any recovery we experience is going to be relatively slow and long. Of course things will improve but it won’t be substantial and it certainly won’t be overnight. Secondly, there are many fundamental and structural changes taking place in retail that all have an impact on retail recruitment market.

As I have discussed before in my previous blog Stop the doom-mongering – the high street isn’t dead the market for high calibre Store Managers, Area Managers etc. will still exist but as the high street is reshaped we have to accept that there will be less of these roles and the competition for them will be high. At the same time naturally the demand for e-commerce related skills and other specialist areas is going to increase.

However, as my colleague recently wrote in his blog The positive signs which indicate the job market is finally picking up "For many candidates now feels like the right time to move. The market has been slow since 2009, for many people this is a long time to put your career on hold. This is starting to change and we are seeing a great deal of people coming to market, finally willing to take the risk of moving because their present employer can’t support their career aspirations." Even in a recovering market most job opportunities are driven by movement of people from role to role rather than the creation of new roles and therefore buoyancy is heavily determined by peoples’ willingness to move.

Signs of this movement are certainly encouraging and for all the reasons discussed above and from anecdotal information we have picked up the market certainly seems to be improving. I look forward to reading the next Retail Choice report early in the New Year which I hope will have a much more positive message.

N.B. Figures quoted based on the Retail Choice Retail Employment Survey H1, January- June 2013

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What the numbers tell you about your future career in Hospitality?

By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development Reading through the latest hospitality report from the Caterer.com job website released this week unfortunately doesn’t make particularly happy reading. Whilst the Governor of the Bank of England talks about signs of recovery, it is clear that the Hospitality sector is still having a challenging time which naturally impacts on the people that work within it.  So what are the numbers telling you about the sector and your employment prospects?

Looking at the numbers from the Caterer report there is a clear decline in the number of vacancies with a fall of some 10% on the previous year. Unfortunately for job seekers, this was matched by a 4% increase in the number of job applications. This reinforces what we are seeing in the market, that the job market in hospitality remains extremely competitive. In fact, looking at the previous caterer report we can see that in fact the decline in roles has actually accelerated from an 8% decline to a 10% decline and that the increase in applications has also accelerated, moving from a 2% increase to a 4% increase.  Such dramatic falls can be reconciled by a number of factors, firstly that due to the on-going economic uncertainty people are "sitting tight" which is actually reducing "churn" in the market.  However it can also be attributed to the continued economic challenges that are causing businesses to remain cautious about their investment in people.  Without doubt though over the last four years, many businesses have chosen to invest in developing and retaining their existing staff as the most cost effective people strategy.

Across the sectors, there has been mixed performances. Some sectors have fared better than others with the Pub sector continuing to face very challenging times. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, over the last 5 years there has been a 14% decline in the number of pubs.  Interestingly according to those statistics in 2011 5,505 new pubs opened but some 6,115 closed indicating the significant churn and instability in that sector.   This also reflects the changing nature of the market as pubs adapt to trends in the market with many now diversifying into more food-led operations.

However, there are some good news stories out there and reading the M & C report each day certainly gives me some hope. As expected, there are always winners and losers and in this highly competitive sector, those businesses that have their proposition right and are able to communicate this effectively to their customers are prospering.   Whitbread for instance recently released some stellar results with like-for-like sales up 3.7% and yesterday The Restaurant Group’s shares reached an all time high on the back of the strong results they released yesterday showing a 4.5% increase in their like-for-like sales.

The Hospitality sector continues to be an incredibly dynamic and exciting industry.  Trends and customer needs are constantly changing. New concepts, designs and formats are constantly being designed and launched and those that satisfy and capture the needs of the market will reap strong rewards.

So what do these statistics say about your career in Hospitality?

Firstly, it shows the sector continues to face challenges and that the competition for roles remains as intense as ever. This reinforces the need for candidates to prepare effectively for their job search and to ensure that, when they do secure an interview, that they are able to perform exceptionally well. By conducting thorough research into the brand including site visits and SWOT analyses when appropriate, ensuring that you are able to provide tangible examples of your achievements and by giving evidence that you possess the capabilities required for your target role, you will have an edge over your competition.

It also shows that different sectors are performing better than others and within each market there are clear winners and losers. With rapidly changing customer needs, businesses need to change, adapt and evolve and those that do will outperform the market strongly. By keeping in touch with developments in the sector as a whole, you will be able to assess where the growth areas are likely to be and which businesses will offer you the most career development. Industry publications such as the Caterer and the M&C report are invaluable however, keeping in touch with your personal network of contacts is also hugely effective in keeping tabs on what is happening in the industry and what opportunities this could present for you.

To be successful in your job search in the current market, you must focus on those roles where your skills are most transferable and where your experience is most relevant. By doing this, you will maximise your chances of success when a precious vacancy arises.

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The Top 10 Golden Retail behaviours…that everyone else wants to tap in to.

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development. I recently wrote about the Top 10 transferable Retail skills (Click here). When I wrote that blog I found myself having to separate behaviours from skills and competencies. There is a strong appetite across many industries for Retailers not just for the skill-sets that they acquire but also for the behaviours that they exhibit. These behaviours, often under rated and generally taken for granted, are not unique to Retail but when combined with a typical Retailer’s skill-set they are very…very powerful.
  • Urgency & Pace
I suspect that this is the most under-rated behaviour of all. Retail has always been a fast paced industry, driven by consumer demand, trends & perishable product. Quite simply if you do not ‘get it right’ first time you will lose a sale to the competition. You snooze – you lose. With the onset of Social Media and Internet shopping the urgency of delivery has become even more important. Most retail jobs are highly task focussed and great retailers are able to prioritise, Urgent vs. Important, and deliver a result with pace. Having recruited for a number of organisations in other industries Line Managers often talk about the need for an injection of urgency and love the pace that retailers operate at.
  • Customer & Service Orientation
We have all had poor experiences in a shop before but on the whole the service offered, in my opinion, is far higher than in other industries. The reason why I believe this is of particular importance is that the provision of service is generally one of many tasks that frontline and back office support retailers have to provide. Remaining focussed on the customer when you have a refit taking place, maintenance issues, conference calls from head office, an audit, stock deliveries and a multitude of other tasks in your in-tray is both an art and a science. This isn’t just applicable at store level either, the demands being placed upon Directors and CEOs has reached stratospheric levels with an increasing uptake of Social Media. I have spoken to numerous Directors recently who are increasingly dealing directly with customer issues, in real time over Twitter...24/7. Now that is…
  • Commitment
I am not sure there are many 9-5 jobs left these days but in Retail that simply doesn’t exist. There are 0hr contracts, ever evolving shift patterns and an unceasing workload. The level of commitment will vary from shop to shop and business to business but I can only comment on my own experience from HMV. I can remember many late nights preparing stores for opening, refits, layout changes and I always found my respective teams (on relatively modest salaries) to be utterly committed. In Retail you just cannot achieve your core goals without dedication and commitment. It’s a hackneyed phrase but tasks are often split between JDIs (just do it – or JFDI as it was in HMV’s culture!) and nice to haves. Retailers accept this and just get on with it.
  • Compliance & Standards
Retail is Detail. I used to hate that phrase but the truth is it is spot on. Retail is about routines and processes. If you are unable to drive continuously high standards your business will fall apart very quickly. Retailers will have this ingrained in to their behaviours from the first day they start their job. Often the tasks are repetitive and boring but they do underpin the fun stuff. Delivering this compliance while balancing customer needs is not simple. I still find myself inadvertently tidying CD sections in my local HMV store and tutting at dirty or cluttered windows. Retailers will take this behaviour with them in to every role they undertake.
  • Competitive
Clearly this is a behaviour that needs to be moderated in the right way, however, there are few industries that are quite as competitive. Just look at the number of high profile administrations in recent months, let alone years. Retailers are used to competing and thrive on the challenge. Every single minute of every single day they are competing not just externally but often internally. Retailers are battered with KPIs and scorecards and there is nothing worse than being bottom of the table...actually scratch that, second isn’t much better! This competitiveness is often a result high levels of…
  • Drive & Passion
The beauty of the Retail Industry is that anyone can enter and anyone can do well. Of course degrees and other technical qualifications will help but if you have high levels of drive and you are passionate about what you do, you WILL be successful.
  • Resilience
I am not sure I need to explain this one given the rollercoaster most retailers have been on over the last few years. To be fair even in the good times it isn’t easy. There is rarely any respite, no rest period and little time for reflection. Retailers get two days off a year. When your average person is enjoying their May Day Bank holiday, Store managers and their teams are working harder then ever. It isn’t any easier further up the ladder either. Preparing for a 7am Monday morning board meeting, trying to shore up some shocking like for likes, late in to a Sunday night certainly requires some resilience – and not just for the individual but for their families too.
  • Results Orientation
I mentioned KPIs earlier. These days pretty much everything that a retailer does is measured in some way. The larger chains have engaged in some very detailed time and motion studies to increase productivity and that only serves to ratchet up the focus on results. Retailers live and die by their numbers. Even customer service scores and employee surveys are often boiled down to a single number. Are you above average? Did you top the region, the company or the industry? As with previous points, where Retailers really impress is their ability to combine an orientation towards ‘getting a result’ with doing it the ‘right way’ – through their people and with customer at the heart of their decision.
  • Receptive to and engaged with change
I think it is fair to say that this doesn’t apply to all Retailers and that the industry has had change thrust upon it to some extent with the advent of the internet and other external pressures. Having said that the industry has adapted and behaviourally Retailers have become accustomed to a state of flux within their respective markets. The most successful individuals and businesses are the ones that embrace change and where it is second nature.
  • Ownership & Accountability
With highly visible KPIs, strong processes and structure comes accountability. With accountability comes ownership! This swings both ways, when you are doing well you will receive the plaudits…when things are not going so well you will be held accountable. Retailers understand this relationship between success and failure and they own their results. You only have to listen to a politician on the radio to realise what a fantastic attribute this is!!!

As I mentioned earlier these behaviours are not unique to Retail but the combination is rare and it certainly explains why leaders from other industries are so keen to tap in to this Human Resource.

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Top 10 transferable retail skills

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

The retail sector has continued to take a battering over the last twelve months, not least with a number of high profile company administrations. This has resulted in a large influx of candidates coming on to what was an already an overcrowded and highly competitive market. It can be a heart-breaking situation for many candidates who have developed an excellent skillset and still have the passion and drive to grow their career. However, if you are flexible and open to new ideas there are a wealth of opportunities out there. Retailers tend to pick up a broad and highly transferable skill-set. Indeed, there are few other industries that could better prepare you to move to a different sector. If you are keen to consider options outside of traditional retail, the first step to understanding what you could do next is first identifying what your transferable skills are:

  • Leadership & People Management

Clearly this is a broad and complex subject but in my experience, the two core skills that are often in demand are; the ability to motivate direct reports, indirect reports and other stakeholders and; the ability to manage performance in a formal and structured manner. Retailers generally learn how to do this both on the job and in the classroom – an option not always available in many companies. This skill is perhaps in itself the single most important as it really does allow retailers to move in to virtually any industry where people management is the key requirement.

  • Profit & Loss Management

Most retailers offer varying levels of accountability however broadly speaking, most have a strong understanding of the key lines in a P&L and what pulleys and levers they can operate to drive a result.

  • Business & Project Management.

Again, this can cover a multitude of things but in this case I believe that retailers have an excellent ability to manage a broad range of objectives. The skills employed will be time management, priority identification and ensuring task completion.

  • Strategy and tactical development.

The degree of exposure and therefore capability will depend on the level that you have reached but retailers learn from very early in their career, at the very least, how to develop a tactical plan on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.

  • Sales & Business Development

Not every retailer is given the opportunity to ‘sell’ or indeed develop their business on a wider context, however those that do are able to develop a highly transferable skill. This, coupled with people management ability is in high demand currently as many companies are looking for an additional edge in a stagnant economy.

  • Coaching

Arguably this could sit under general people management. However, retailers will often develop this skill in matrix management structures whereby they are coaching individuals that are not direct reports.

  • Customer focus.

There are very few industries where managers are exposed to customers directly in such volume and regularity. Retailers have to react to market changes at pace and with a high degree of accuracy. Balancing customer focus with profit is not always straightforward.

  • Operations Management.

Depending on your retail background the experience you have here will vary. By operations management I am referring to the management of the supply chain and the store operation. Food & ‘big box’ retailers tend to have the most advanced skill-set in this regard. Understanding the cause & effect of moving units from one place to another may sound simple but in high volume environments it can be incredibly complex.

  • Relationship management.

Retail Managers up to Director level will generally develop the ability to manage multiple relationships often with stakeholders with varying agendas. The ability to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders is often overlooked but is in high demand in numerous industries and job families.

  • Change Management.

Given the scale of change that the Retail Industry has faced and continues to face, the ability to manage change has become essential for most senior retailers. Change management is often a combination of the aforementioned skills with a set of behaviours that allows for a successful delivery.

I have generally found that it is a combination of these skills that most attracts employers to ‘fish from the Retail pool.’ I would love to hear from people that have changed industry and what enabled them to make a successful transition.

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Be Beautiful or Useful – my advice to the UK Retail market

  By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development. William Morris, the designer, famously said “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. It occurred to me over Christmas that we could apply the same sentiment to the changing face of UK Retail. If a store isn’t fundamentally useful or temptingly beautiful then it simply won’t survive long term. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but what I mean by a ‘beautiful’ store is somewhere that offers an experience that you simply can’t get elsewhere, not least of all online. Somewhere that is exciting, where you can touch, feel and try the product, somewhere which is inspiring to look at and where you are made to feel special. Brands like Apple and Hollister and shopping centres like Westfield have created retail experiences and product so desirable that people are simply compelled to leave their homes to visit. Useful is somewhat harder to define. To be really useful in retail terms, customers firstly need to have absolute clarity about what it is you sell and what makes you the specialist in that market. They must have confidence in your ability to deliver the product or service quickly and efficiently. You must deliver great service consistently. Lots of retailers may think they are specialists, however do their customers agree? To me, the perfect example of this is Timpsons. There is no ambiguity about what they do – they are true specialists and they offer a useful and good old-fashioned service along the way. Like many people, driven by lack of time and pure convenience, I did most of my Christmas shopping online. I was lucky, all my purchases arrived promptly, making the whole process very efficient, however I couldn’t help but feel a little sad at having missed the frisson of excitement from actually visiting a shop and looking at tangible product. However, without the ultimate ‘useful’ option of online shopping, I would really have struggled to get the job done. Not all online retailers get it right, however they are fundamentally ‘useful’ in that they save us time – so critical in today’s pressured world and this is why they are becoming so dominant, at the expense of some of their bricks and mortar competitors. However, when we returned to the office in the new year, I compared notes with my colleagues about our positive retail experiences and the following stood out. B&Q – not the obvious place for a delightful shopping experience - but it was just that. I was greeted on arrival by not one, but two employees, one of whom helpfully explained that I could sign up online to receive special offers. While browsing around their Christmas decorations, I received a jolly “Good Morning Madam!” from the Manager, leaving me to wonder whether I had, in the manner of Marty McFly, inadvertently been transported to the 1950’s! When I asked for assistance in finding a product, I was cheerfully escorted to the correct aisle and on my way to check out, I passed a group of children doing an early morning arts and crafts workshop, their Dads hovering nearby. It felt vibrant and inclusive, despite the fact that my purchase of lime-scale remover (?!) was in fact, completely mundane. John Lewis - here I was genuinely inspired by the range of products, all displayed beautifully. The store was packed and everywhere I could see staff buzzing around, often in dialogue with a customer. This was the retail we know and love – a busy, exciting store with lovely brands, an ambiance which encourages browsing and if needed, helpful and knowledgable staff. Here I was genuinely tempted to part with more cash to supplement my online purchases. And finally Kiddicare which my colleague described as “functionally brilliant”. It was easy to park with wide aisles (big enough to accommodate a double pram). The range was amazing with clear signage and pricing and the service was exceptional with staff being customer-focused rather than task-focused. They have a reasonably priced café and soft play area which resulted in significantly increased dwell time, despite having lively 20 month old twins in tow! In my opinion, in years to come we will see one of two things in our high streets and shopping centres. Either businesses selling a useful product or service (and doing it with a genuine affection for the customer) or beautiful stores where you can spend time and where you are made to feel special. As ruthless as it seems, the market is ‘de-cluttering’ and I can’t see that there will be latitude for those retailers who fall within the middle ground. Click here to follow our Blog on LinkedIn. By Sophie Mackenzie, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.
 

Are Tesco leading the way in their use of Social Media to engage their people?

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development. Retail has been under the spotlight in recent months and there has been a lot of criticism levelled at the industry for being too slow to adapt to changes in technology and Social Media and the impact this has had on shopping behaviour. The focus has so far been on the customer - arguably this is where all the attention should be. However, what I find interesting is the lack of attention being paid to how Retailers can use Social media to engage their people. How many times do you hear about the ‘disinterested shop assistant’ when people complain about bricks and mortar shopping?

It is widely acknowledged that many organisations are using Facebook as a vehicle for driving graduate recruitment campaigns and LinkedIn often forms the backbone of a great deal of mid-senior management recruitment. What tends to be missing is how Retailers are using Social Media to engage with their own people. There is a general reluctance to officially endorse the use of Social media for fear of what can happen when employees have access to this platform (HMV have experienced this recently).

In the modern workplace the increase in the part time labour mix has led to more, not less staff, and more varied shift patterns. As a result, communicating with this work-force has grown more complicated than ever before. How does a Director communicate directly with his/her store teams? How does an Area Manager ensure the ‘message’ is landing with EVERY member of staff?

I am not a big user of Twitter, we recruiters have clogged up LinkedIn enough without doing the same to every other platform! However, what I do use if for is keeping abreast of news and developments as they happen. It would seem that Tesco have also realised that, if used responsibly, it has the capability to deliver a message to large numbers of people in a highly efficient manner. I have been following a few of their ‘Store Directors’ recently, a Store Director, for those that are unfamiliar, is the level above General Store Manager. Typically they will manage anywhere from 10-20 stores with eye watering turnovers. It is a big job with accountability for between 5,000 – 10,000 staff. Given these numbers it must be incredibly difficult to verbally thank your people and highlight best practice. The individuals I have been following, and I believe this is common practice in the business, are prolific in following up store visits and meetings with a tweet about what they have seen and experienced (It’s amazing what you can do with a fish counter on Valentines day!).

The tweets range from a simple ‘well done’ to photos of great displays and more often than not, something personal. This public acknowledgement of a job well done must be incredibly satisfying and, while I don’t imagine every Tesco employee is using Twitter, I would hazard a guess that the tech savvy staff are sharing this in the stores. There are Store Director ‘Retweets’ of store staff, and vice versa, and conversations follow. It doesn’t feel like a broadcast, a criticism often levelled at corporate users. If Tesco, a business famed for its slick pre-agreed processes, is prepared to take its Social Media gloves off, why doesn’t the rest of Retail?

Of course there isn’t just the benefit of motivating your people through a very public thank-you; what this also creates is an opportunity for the front line staff to communicate upwards. Many retailers fail to tap in to the true value of their people because they are not engaged. I suspect that Tesco will reap huge dividends from the fact that store based staff can communicate an idea to their directors. Most employees are not motivated by cash, or indeed the fear of losing their job; what really engages and motivates an employee is having an influence on their working environment, being recognised and having the opportunity to bring their own ideas to the table.

In the future, I wonder if Social Media will be used by Retailers to generate strategy and tactics (CEOs are often mystified by the current pace of change) rather than just as a medium to market their products.

I would be interested to hear from other retailers that are using Social Media to talk to their people and how it has benefitted them. It would be great if you could share your ideas here.

By Jez Styles, AdMore Recruitment- Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.