Careers in Retailing: A Conversation with Theresa Williams, Director of the Center for Retailing
Describe how retail fits into the business world.
“Retailing is a major part of U.S. and world commerce. Retail sales and employment are key economic contributors, and retail trends often mirror trends in a nation’s overall economy. Retailing includes all of the major aspects of the business world, including consumer behavior, merchandising, operations, management, market research, technology and information systems, marketing, brand development, finance, advertising, human resources, and accounting. Retailing as a program of study prepares students to make educated decisions about consumer markets, advertising and promotion, channels of distribution, and the use of new technologies to enhance customer satisfaction.”
What are the most dynamic elements of the retail industry?
“Retailing is a dynamic activity. Retailers must be proactive or, at the very least, adaptive organizations to be profitable. Dynamic influences include new technologies, more sophisticated consumer preferences and habits, shifting balance of power between manufacturers and retailers, mergers and consolidations, and the advent of a global economy.”
What skills lead to a successful retail career?
“Individuals with a combination of business education and industry-specific knowledge present an attractive skills package to the market. Forward-thinking individuals with initiative, problem-solving skills, and enthusiasm have the opportunity for entry-level positions with significant responsibility. Retailing requires a combination of interpersonal, creative, and analytical skills. In addition, employers seek individuals exhibiting high energy and leadership potential.”
Why would you recommend retail as a career to students?
“Retailing offers many exciting advancement opportunities. The industry is becoming increasingly sophisticated and one of America’s most powerful. For example, recent changes include an unprecedented growth through expansion, mergers, and consolidations, which has given retailers more market power.”
What is the biggest myth you have heard about retail, and what is the reality of it?
“One misconception that some students have is that they will be repeating a work experience they had during a part-time or summer retail job, especially if they pursue a position in the stores. The reality is that qualified college graduates are placed in positions of responsibility that deal with risk taking, problem solving, decision making, and team management, often related to large dollar volumes that have significant impact on the overall performance of the store.”
What are some other myths about retail?
“Retail isn’t for college graduates. Retail is only about fashion. Retail is only sales. Retail offers low starting salaries. Retail offers little work-life balance.”
What advice do you give students who want to pursue a career in retail?
“Their first full-time employment choices are among the most important decisions students make. Therefore, it is necessary to approach an employment choice with the utmost preparation. I advise students to assess their personal strengths and weaknesses, along with their career goals and objectives, followed by the employment search process. It is also important for students to utilize all of the objective information resources available to them; these could include university faculty, centers for retail studies, career services materials, university alumni now working in the industry, and the multitude of online information.”
What are the most rewarding and challenging elements of retail?
“Most rewarding: immediate feedback on performance issues, opportunity for advancement, energy and excitement generated by the individuals who have a passion for the industry. Most challenging: time management.”
How can students contact you for more information?
“They can reach me at the Center for Education and Research in Retailing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. My phone number is (812) 855-1289 and my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.”