Retail begins to sell itself

Stores are uniting to lure graduate trainees

"Retailing still has the image: if you don't work hard, you'll end up working in a shop," according to Kate Orebi-Gann, chairman of the Association of Graduate Recruiters and recruitment manager of Marks & Spencer. She says this is particularly true of the parents of sons. "Their families say: 'After three years of study you could have done better than that.' "

Newly qualified graduates remain conservative in making career decisions, with retailing rarely their first choice. Careers advisers have been slow to recognise the impact of the enormous changes taking place in the industry. According to graduates who work in retailing, its image among job-seekers also suffers because of the poor service still offered by some shop assistants, student experiences as part-time shelf-stackers and the portrayal of Curly Watts in Coronation Street.

The reality is that retailing, particularly in multiples and supermarket chains, has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. It not only provides graduates working in store management with real challenges in commercial and people management, but also offers a variety of specialist careers in such areas as information technology, logistics and finance.

Retailing has been transformed by "just-in-time" ordering and deliveries, new production processes and by information technology. Mrs Orebi-Gann notes that just-in time deliveries reduce stocks and so improve cash-flow and increase profits. This is aided by computerised tills, which mean that information on the pattern of sales is immediately available. Any changes in customer shopping behaviour - because the weather has changed, for example - can be immediately identified and new goods ordered in response.

New manufacturing technology makes it easier to act on changes in demand. For example, some garments can now be made up colourless and dyed at the last moment to meet customer demand.

Reflecting retailing's growing intellectual content, eight universities now run full-time degree courses in retailing. Bournemouth runs full- and part-time MPhil and PhD courses, and Stirling University runs a full- time MBA in retail and wholesale.

Retailing has also become international. Overseas retailers have moved into Britain. For example, the German-based discount food retailer Aldi has opened 160 stores in Britain since 1990 and is growing at the rate of 25 to 30 new stores a year. British stores are investing abroad. In the next year Marks & Spencer will add to its existing chain in France; in October, it opens a new store in Cologne, the first of several in Germany; and it already has a presence in the Far East.

In spite of all this, entrenched attitudes have not changed. However, eight leading companies have got together to promote graduate careers in retailing to students, academic staff and their careers advisers. This consortium, CORTCO, comprises Boots, CWS (the Co-operative Societies), Kingfisher (including B&Q, Comet and Woolworths), the John Lewis Partnership (including Waitrose), Marks & Spencer, Safeway, Sainsburys and Tesco.

Until recently, the consortium ran weekends to introduce students to retailing but, says its chairman, Hilary Woodland, they benefited only a few people. She says that as well as events for careers advisers "a new avenue is the production of case studies for use in business studies, degree courses and in retail degree courses."

The consortium's efforts seem to be paying off. Miss Woodland said that members had seen a "big change in attitudes and graduate perceptions over the past two years". She added: "I went to 25 careers fairs last year and the stands for Marks & Spencer, Sainsburys and other retailers were among the busiest. Also the number and calibre of graduates was the highest ever."

CORTCO members pay newly qualified graduates between pounds 15,000 and pounds 16,000 a year. Progress is usually fast, and most graduates are surprised at the amount of responsibility they are given. For example, within 18 months of joining Marks & Spencer you could be a running a store with an annual turnover of pounds 7m to pounds 8m a year. Working for Safeway, you could have four managers and 50 staff reporting to you.

The rewards and career prospects offered by CORTCO members and other top retailers are good. However, it is one of the recent entrants to Britain who is setting the pace. Aldi, a food discounting chain with 4,500 stores in nine countries, offers new graduates a starting salary of pounds 26,000 plus a car. After nine months' intensive training they are expected to become district managers with responsibility for between five and seven stores, progressing to regional managers. They can take charge of as many as 50 stores, or enter property management, finance and administration, warehousing and distribution, or purchasing.

However, as Aldi's UK managing director, Trevor Coates, points out, it's a tough environment. There are many applicants, but "it's difficult to attract the right calibre". He seeks graduates with people skills, leadership qualities, the ability to react quickly to situations and says "as they progress, they've got to be analytical". These are the skills needed to succeed in any major retailing organisation.

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links