Retail management: area of work

A graduate scheme in retail management could be the ideal path if you’re an organised communicator who thrives on variety and enjoys the buzz of a busy workplace.

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What do store managers do?

Store managers are based on the shop floor and are on the front line of the retail business. It is their role to keep an eye on all areas of the store to keep it running smoothly. As such, typical tasks that a manager may expect to perform include:

  • ensuring staff give excellent customer service
  • deciding sales targets and making sure they are met
  • liaising with head office, communicating their directives to staff and deciding the best way to implement them
  • checking stock levels
  • making sure staff levels are sufficient
  • hiring new staff
  • training new and existing employees
  • managing and motivating team members
  • making (or signing off) decisions about how best to promote certain products
  • making sure that health and safety regulations are being maintained
  • keeping an eye on labour performance statistics
  • solving any problems or dealing with any difficulties as they arise.

Many of the larger retailers run a 24-hour operation, and although managers don’t work a 24-hour day, they need to understand how all areas of the business work even when they’re not there.

What degree background and qualifications do I need for a career in retail management?

The majority of retailers accept candidates with any degree subject, but are likely to specify a particular grade. For example, while Lidl asks for a 2.2, Aldi requires a 2.1 or above. Additionally, there are retail management postgraduate courses available; however, none of the main retailers require a postgraduate qualification.

Key skills for graduate and trainee retail managers

  • The ability to establish good working relationships and work well in teams
  • Effective communication at all levels (including the ability to adapt your communication to the situation)
  • An understanding of what motivates employees and how to make others feel valued
  • Strong leadership skills: the ability to discipline when necessary, but also to delegate when appropriate and empower others
  • The confidence to take initiative and make effective decisions quickly
  • Excellent commercial awareness and analytical skills
  • Awareness of what sells and why
  • The ability to remain calm under pressure and adapt to changing circumstances
  • Brilliant organisational skills, including an understanding of priorities on a large scale (not just regarding personal workload).

Graduate programmes in retail management

There are many graduate retail management training schemes run by major retailers, such as TJX (owner of TK Maxx). They typically run for 12–18 months, although some may be longer. Retail management tends to have considerably more graduate schemes than other, more niche areas of retail.

Good graduate programmes will offer a range of rotations in different departments and will help you develop all the abilities necessary to run your own store. These include leadership, managerial and communication skills, and the ability to take charge of all the commercial, financial and operational aspects – from sales and budgeting to staff recruitment and retention. Rotations will usually be based in a range of stores around the UK, so being flexible about job location is often a must.

Why choose a career in retail management?

In a store management career you’ll take on significant responsibility at an early stage. For example, you could be managing a department in a store within a few months or be in charge of a whole store with a multimillion pound turnover inside two to three years, depending on the retailer. With that would come the responsibility for looking after a large team, which could reach the hundreds. If that sounds appealing and you are a natural leader who enjoys the challenge of a busy workplace and is comfortable making decisions quickly, a career in retail management could be for you.

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