You can make much more than minimum wage. Employment in retail has recently declined, but the situation isn't totally bleak. The Occupational Outlook Handbook states that retail employment opportunities will continue to grow through 2008 due to frequent turnover and a growing population.
Other reasons include the growth of products for baby boomers--hearing aids for example--and the lack of e-business for these products. Says Mike Moran, Ph.D., chief economist for Daiwa USA, the e-sales boom hasn't really boomed at all. "People like surfing for information, but they don't like buying from the dot-coms." That has positive implications for "brick-and-mortar" retailers, at least for now.
According to Moran, retail positions over the past year (ending in June) grew by 1.2 percent or 270,000 new retail jobs. Still, some areas continue to contract.
Are we witnessing the death throes of the Mom and Pop industry?
Labor Market Low
"Unfortunately, the labor market is soft right now," cautions Moran. "It's noticeably weaker than what we had before. In two of the past three months, we've seen overall employment decline."
This past June, jobs fell by 114,000. But Moran quickly points out 132 million people are now working. "So it's really just one-tenth of a percent. But still, for our economy, it's unusual to see the actual number of jobs contract." While the United States typically enjoys a steadily growing economic paradigm, Moran admits, "Right now, the overall tone of the labor market is weak."
The worst economic area is manufacturing. "This is typically the case. It's just getting walloped. As a general rule, that's what happens during a contraction; the service sector isn't as volatile," explains Moran. However, there is a synergistic effect. If employees in manufacturing--automobiles, apparel, steel, or any industry that produces tangible goods--are laid off, they have less buying power. In turn, retail sales diminish, especially for discretionary purchases.
Survival of the Biggest?
"The one area that is really consolidating is the discount retail business," says Gary Belastock, a Boston retail employment expert. "The big three--Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target--have dominated and gotten larger, whereas other regional retailers, some of which had chains of well over 100 stores, are no longer around." The big grow colossal; the smaller ones have no buying power and fall by the wayside. The same is generally true in consumer electronics and home center retailing.
Are we witnessing the death throes of the Mom and Pop industry? Not necessarily, cautions Belastock. "The ones that still do it well will survive. There are definitely some inner city locations, or niche or specialty markets, where an independent retailer can succeed." Positioning and outstanding customer service will make or break these smaller business entities.
Thinking Inside the Box
"The growth has been in the category killers," Belastock continues. These are businesses selling items not usually associated with their product line, e.g., office supply chains selling pen and paper and coffee, snacks, paper towels, and video games.
"There's been a trend toward 'bigger box' specialty retail stores," For example: Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Bed, Bath and Beyond. One-stop grocery mega-stores continue to do well overall. Belastock adds, "The apparel market has been doing very well. But then others, like The Gap, have been struggling and suffering layoffs."
Many progressive companies have developed sophisticated inventory planning departments and correspondingly, some colleges offer majors in the retail field including:
- Fashion Institute of Technology (New York City)
- Simmons College (Boston)
- Westbrook College (Maine)
"I think it's just a matter of who does it well. And who's efficient. Who's on top of the right trends," says Belastock. "Retail isn't exactly rocket science, but it's having the right product, priced right, and controlling inventory." He enthuses, "There's a whole career path for people who excel in that area."