Careers in Retailing
Occupational Outlook Handbook


In most retail stores across the country, there is at least one manager. Because the retail industry provides goods and services directly to customers, such managers are responsible for ensuring that customers get prompt service and quality goods. They also handle complaints and inquiries.

Retail managers oversee the work of sales associates, cashiers, customer service workers, stock and inventory clerks, and grocery clerks. They also are responsible for interviewing, hiring, and training employees, as well as preparing work schedules and assigning workers to specific duties.

The responsibilities of retail managers vary depending on the size and type of firm as well as the level of management. As the size of the firm and the types of goods and services increase, these workers increasingly specialize in one department or aspect of merchandising. Larger firms tend to have many layers of management. Similar to other industries, supervisory-level retail managers usually report to their mid-level counterparts who, in turn, report to top-level managers. Small stores and stores that carry specialized merchandise typically have fewer levels of management.

Supervisory-level retail managers, often known as department managers, provide the day-to-day oversight of individual departments such as shoes, cosmetics, or housewares in large department stores, produce and meat in grocery stores, and service and sales in automotive dealerships. Department managers commonly are found in large retail stores. They establish and implement policies, goals, and procedures for their specific departments; coordinate activities with other department heads; and strive for smooth operations within their departments. They supervise employees who price and ticket goods and place them on display; clean and organize shelves, displays, and inventory in stockrooms; and inspect merchandise to ensure that none is outdated. Department managers also may greet and assist customers and promote sales and good public relations. Department managers also review inventory and sales records, develop merchandising techniques, and coordinate sales promotions.

In smaller or independent retail stores, retail managers not only directly supervise sales associates, but are also responsible for the operation of the entire store. In these instances, they may also be called a store manager. Some are also store owners.


Most retail sales worker supervisors and managers have offices within the store itself. While some of their time is spent in the office completing merchandise orders or arranging work schedules, a large portion of the time is spent on the sales floor.

Work hours vary greatly among retailers. The schedule of managers often depends on consumer needs. Most work 40 hours a week, but longer hours are common, especially over holidays, busy shopping hours and seasons, sales, and store inventory. They are expected to work evenings and weekends, but may be rewarded with a weekday off. Hours can change weekly, and managers sometimes may have to report to work on short notice, especially if many employees are absent. Independent owners set their own schedules, but hours must be convenient to their customers.


Retail managers hold about 900,000 wage and salary jobs. In addition, there are thousands of self-employed retail sales managers, mainly store owners. Managers are found in every sector of retailing -- grocery stores, department stores, clothing and shoe stores, automotive dealers, and furniture stores are among the largest industries.


Knowledge of management principles and practices is essential for a supervisory position in retailing, and such knowledge usually is acquired via work experience. Many managers begin their careers on the selling floor as sales clerks, cashiers, or customer service workers. There, they learn merchandising, customer service, and the basic policies and procedures of the store.

The educational background of retail managers varies. Yet, regardless of the education received, business courses including accounting, administration, marketing, management, and sales, as well as those in psychology, sociology, and communication, are helpful. Managers also must be computer literate as cash registers and inventory control systems become more computerized.

Most managers with post-secondary education hold an associate or a bachelor's degree in liberal arts, social science, business, or management. To gain experience, many post-secondary students participate in internship programs which are planned between individual schools and retail firms.

Once on the job, the training available for managers varies from firm to firm. Many chains have formal programs for management trainees, which include both classroom and in-store training. Training may last from a week to a year or more, as many retailers want trainees to get experience during all shopping seasons. Other retail organizations may not have formal training programs.

Classroom training may include such topics as interviewing and customer service skills, and employee and inventory management and scheduling. Management trainees may be placed in one specific department while training on the job, or they may be rotated among several departments to gather a well-rounded knowledge of the store's operation. Training programs in franchises generally are extensive, covering all functions of operations, including promotion, marketing, management, finance, purchasing, product preparation, human resource management, and compensation. College graduates usually enter management training programs directly.

Retail managers must get along with all kinds of people. They need initiative, self-discipline, good judgment, and decisiveness. Patience and a mild temperament are necessary when dealing with demanding customers. They also must be able to motivate, organize, and direct the work of subordinates and communicate clearly and persuasively with customers and other managers.

Those who show leadership, self-confidence, motivation, and decisiveness become candidates for promotion to assistant store manager or store manager. Increasingly, a post-secondary degree is needed to advance because it is viewed by employers as a sign of motivation and maturity. In many retail firms, managers are promoted from within. In small retail firms, where the number of positions is limited, advancement may come slowly. Larger firms have more extensive career ladders and offer managers the opportunity to transfer to another store in the chain or to a central office if an opening occurs. Promotion may occur more quickly in larger establishments, but relocation every several years may be necessary for advancement. Positions within the central office to which store-based managers can move include marketing, advertising, and public relations (where they coordinate marketing plans, monitor sales, and propose advertisements and promotions), as well as buying (where they purchase goods and supplies for resale).

Some managers who have worked in the retail industry for a long time decide to open their own store. However, retailing is highly competitive, and although many independent retail owners succeed, some fail to cover expenses and eventually go out of business. Retail owners need good business sense, as well as strong customer service skills and public relations skills.


Jobs in retail management vary greatly in earnings, weekly hours, employees supervised, and type of goods and services provided. Competition is expected for the jobs with the most attractive earnings and working conditions. Candidates with retail experience will have the most options.

Overall employment of retail managers is expected to rise about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005 as grocery stores, department stores, automotive dealerships, and other retail establishments grow in number and size. Establishment size has been increasing as firms seek to accommodate consumer desires for a greater selection of merchandise and one-stop shopping. The specialization arising from creation of new departments within existing stores and the offering of additional product lines should spur the demand for store-level retail managers.

Projected growth of retail managers will mirror, in part, the patterns of employment growth in the sectors in which they are concentrated. Faster than average growth is expected in miscellaneous shopping goods stores and in appliance, radio, television, and music stores. Average growth is expected in drugstores and proprietary stores, shoe stores, gasoline service stations, and motor vehicle dealers. On the other hand, slower than average growth is expected in department stores.

Unlike middle- and upper-level executives, store-level managers generally will not be affected by the restructuring and consolidating occurring at many chains.