Two's a Queue

Retail, eCommerce, usability, customer experience, service, technology...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

My Retail Apprenticeship

I was really pleased to read in Retail Week that Next has launched a new apprenticeship scheme. As a former Next person myself I really do credit a lot of the foundation of who I am as a retailer to the time I spent working there. It’s a great company and a solid place to learn the basics in an environment where standards are some of the highest on the high street and the culture is fundamentally based around promotion of people from the shop floor to management or Head Office positions. On a personal level I’d also have to say some of the people who keep the business running from day to day – from store managers to Simon Wolfson himself, are some of the most inspirational retailers I've worked with.

Best of luck to anyone taking up a Next apprenticeship.

People mistakenly believe that retail is a job for people with no education or skills and that anyone can do it. Honestly I think in many cases nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes of course a Saturday job is pretty much a Saturday job but once you start looking under the hood of what many shop staff do on a daily basis you start to see how it becomes a much more skilled position that people realise. Ultimately – and this goes for most things, it’s what you make it. If you treat it as a Saturday job and spend all day painting your nails then that’s up to you but there is a another route- and that is a kickstart to a great career, in retail or out of it.

Yes it can be tough – retail can often be physically exhausting, emotionally draining, long hours, heavy lifting, working Christmas Eve…..but if you see it as a stepping stone to something greater this all becomes worth the hard work.

I started working at Next as a Saturday kid at 17. When I was 19 I was running a department which turned over about £10k a year – it doesn’t sound like a lot but that £10k was hard won. It meant merchandising my department as best I could, replenishing lines which got low, adding new lines in a timely fashion, studying space reports and managing what should go where each week, daily housekeeping, tidying every night and making sure my key lines were on the shop floor and not in the fitting room. By 23 I was helping to run a £3-4m turnover department with 20 staff, managing them, training them, planning, and dealing with stock. At 24 I helped open an overseas store where I learned about overseas supply chain, watched systems being installed and experienced first-hand an international launch. By 25 I was part of a team running a £6m department with 120 staff- coordinating operations and labour planning, floor moves, stock counts, Christmas and end of season sale. By 26 I was dealing with budgets, profits, HR issues, incentives, and yet more merchandising, planning, man hours and motivating of my staff.

Listing out all the skills I gained from those 7 years would take hundreds of words.

But how many of those skills are things we do in business every day? How many of those skills can you learn from a book? How many of those tasks are issues and processes retailers deal with every day at Head Office level – in some cases at board level? How many of them am I still dealing with (albeit in a different capacity) now?

Now anyone who says that that isn’t a great start in a career, and that being a shop girl involves nail painting and chatting - well they were probably rubbish Saturday kids :-)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Uniqlo new website

I'm quite excited to see the new Uniqlo site which apparently launches on Thursday (though a 24 hour outage is a bit scary!), I'll be at Bestival so will no doubt be updating on how it looks on the iPhone.....