Window shopping through the Meatpacking District of Manhattan there is one trend that every designer has opted for this season: "Now Hiring" signage. This is interesting to me because it seems as if the art of being a retailer is dying. Working in a retail store has become much like the actor that is working as a waiter; people no longer see working in a retail store as a career path. How many people say they want to work in fashion but have no interest in doing the groundwork? So often, fashion newbies say "I want to be a stylist," "I want to be a buyer," or "I want to be a designer" but have they investigated the end point: the cash register?
Fashion houses have fresh crops of interns each year vying to work for free at their favorite designer's corporate office but it is as if no one sees the opportunity to receive pay for hands on development or the opportunity to be face to face with the consumer and gain knowledge on what makes them buy. Without the consumer, you can create the most amazing collection but just watch as it fades into history if a financial end result or loyal client base is not your goal. Although the creative aspect of the fashion business is exciting, the design house needs the client to survive. I have often said to my colleagues in retail "we are not creating a museum or making a social statement...we are here to sell."
It depresses me to meet a sales person who is not interested in the client. The client is being faced with a variety of avenues to be dressed so the thought that they are shopping with you because they need to is extinct. Retail sales people have the opportunity to engage directly with the client and become a valuable resource for the other players in the fashion game. A smart sales person can collect data, communicate with management to meet the client's needs, and often gain a friend. I have met many interesting people in a fitting room and what better way to gain someone's undivided attention than holding them as a naked hostage that is waiting for your next selection.
Although retail sales positions are often not high paying jobs, they can be turned into opportunities to grow within a brand and understand the vision of the operation from the ground up. Setting clear goals for yourself, identifying the tools you need to achieve those goals, and applying the tools in a consistent fashion to receive results are all it takes to move up. Seems like a simple enough equation, right? So what are the pitfalls that keep some sales people from feeling like upward mobility is unattainable?
A positive attitude is necessary in any organization and when working with a sales person this becomes magnified. I have never heard a client say "the sales associate was very negative and disappointed in their job so I became so excited that I purchased the entire collection in my size." A successful sales person asks questions that identify roadblocks and then makes the necessary adjustments or suggestions to fulfill the client's needs. How often do you find yourself shopping for a specific item but come home with something you didn't know you needed until a qualified sales person enlightened you to the value or purpose this item serves? The sales person has an ability to share an excitement about the product that becomes contagious and before you know it; there you are at the register.
Patience is another retail virtue that has been lost in today's increasingly rapid pace. The ability to work on an annual basis and learn from what made last year's sales higher or lower gives you the opportunity to analyze the business and predict future opportunities for the organization as a whole. Although trends change, a patient and consistent sales person looks for patterns in their business that can be identified and either repeated if successful or altered based on poor performance. Wisdom in retail is earned through time and to move up in a brand takes someone who is observant over many seasons to make educated business moves.
Attention to detail is what makes a design house and sets their retail organization apart from others. Whether the voice of the brand is hip, classic, crazy or any other adjective; there needs to be that same awareness throughout the organization and it is the sales person's job to relay this to the client. This is a very important part of the equation for sales and often the sales person feels low on the totem pole not realizing that their interpretation of this voice is sometimes the loudest. The consumer is listening to them face to face rather than drawing conclusions from a print ad or a runway show...an empowered sales associate knows how to communicate the differences in their brand and why the client should become part of this tribe.
Hopefully the tides will change and budding fashion industry hopefuls will realize that one of the greatest resources for their career could be at the nearest boutique or mall. That within the walls of what can be seen as simply a store is a laboratory in which they can experiment with the client and carry that knowledge with them to a rewarding career in fashion.