Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 04/07/2011

It’s not the economy. It’s not the competition moving in next door. What really concerns retailers is the difficulty of finding new talent, at least according to a survey of 135 chief executive officers and presidents conducted by the Herbert Mines Associates search firm, WWD and Equation Research.

This story first appeared in the April 7, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The survey posed the question: “What keeps you up at night?” The biggest concern expressed was talent acquisition and development, said Hal Reiter, chairman and ceo of Herbert Mines. “Ninety percent do not believe that the retail industry is attracting the best and brightest from college campuses. It’s a problem.”

Overall, there is a lack of satisfaction with the talent pool in retailing. “About half [in the survey] thought the skills and expertise needed to fill the C-suite are not available,” and, consequently, 74 percent said they plan to recruit from outside the retail industry for leadership.

That means retailers must invest more in training and skill development. Some do, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gap and Toys ‘R’ Us, which Reiter credited for running effective training programs. Nevertheless, “the retention rate of kids is almost zero after two years,” he added.

“Why haven’t we typically attracted best entry-level talent? The number-one reason is that sexy careers are elsewhere — in banking, consulting, in anything else besides retailing,” Reiter said. There is also a widespread perception that the first few years in retailing can be a drag. “You sit at a computer and look at a spreadsheet for the first five years,” Reiter said.

But he sees some hope. “I am here to tell you the landscape has changed. It’s a new day. The convergence of technology and social media and recent developments in the economy give us great reason to be optimistic. Now working in retail is sexy. This shift in the environment is attracting the younger generation. Now is a great time of opportunity.

“But, at the end of the day, it’s not about salary and stock options. It’s about career development,” Reiter said. “You must give them more opportunities to grow faster.”

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