When Kathryn L. McConville started as a Bullock's sales associate 15 years ago, she had one thing on her mind: the 20% employee discount.
Today, McConville manages Bullock's elegant downtown store, and the employee discount ranks in importance far behind the satisfaction of serving customers and working with a staff.
"I am a store person inside and out," she said.
In rising through the store ranks at Bullock's, McConville followed a typical career path in her industry. Selling, after all, is the foundation of the business, and the sales associates' success with customers can make or break a retailing operation.
For those who prove themselves on the selling floor, other opportunities abound, many involving a great deal of travel. Individuals with a good eye for fashion might look to careers as buyers, with travel to New York and even the Far East to select the garments that customers will see on shelves and racks.
"If you're going to break in to the retail business at Bullock's, you'll break in in sales," said Duane V. Johnson, director of personnel services for 22 Bullock's stores and seven Bullocks Wilshire locations. "Whether one hopes to become a buyer or go the store route . . . you've got to demonstrate ability and knowledge of that function if you're to be successful in ranks farther up the ladder."
With the renewed emphasis on customer service, department stores throughout the Southland will be on the prowl in the coming months for hundreds of motivated workers who enjoy catering to customers. Curmudgeons need not apply, but individuals who like people and are willing to remain flexible in the face of demanding hours, fashion whims and other pressures can draw nice rewards.
"A career in retailing is still very positive," said Phillip E. Vincent, a First Interstate economist. "It's a booming industry, one of the strongest growth sectors."
Deborah Allen Olivier, president of Claremont Economics Institute, also forecasts buoyancy in Southern California retailing, thanks to the area's overall strong job growth, which she said "creates a virtuous cycle" of more people with jobs who, in turn, want more goods and services.
"If anything," she added, "it's getting to be a bit of a tight market" for employers, with good jobs going begging for well-qualified candidates.
At Bullock's, as many as 600 sales associates (as salesclerks are known in the industry) will be hired in the coming months. May Co. California expects to hire "several hundred" sales associates for its 34 stores, according to Chairman Edgar S. Mangiafico.
The Broadway, with 43 stores, plans to hire enough people to fill 375 "full-time equivalent" sales jobs, said Robert A. Dourian, executive vice president of personnel. In addition, the company by year-end will hire an additional 25 college recruits for an executive training program, on top of 75 or so selected earlier this year.
Those candidates will get plenty of exposure to the selling floor, Dourian said, with initial assignments as area sales managers in the stores. "After a period of time," he said, "they will either continue up the store manager line or move into the merchant community as an assistant buyer."
Nordstrom, a growth-minded apparel chain that usually promotes from within its store ranks, also expects to hire for its 13 Southern California stores depending on need, spokeswoman Theresa Clark said.
Generally, according to Johnson of Bullock's, department store personnel follow one of two career paths--one in stores and one in the corporate buying offices.
In the stores, a sales associate who demonstrates an aptitude for selling may move on to a job as department selling manager, with responsibility for a small area of the store and a staff of two or three. The alternative is to become an assistant department manager, serving as the No. 2 person in a large department.
From there, the employee moves up to department manager, supervising a sizable staff, as well as having responsibility for selecting and displaying merchandise on the floor. In a sense, Johnson said, the person is responsible for his or her own "specialty store," usually for at least two years.
After managing a couple of departments, the individual next becomes a division manager, supervising several department managers and reporting directly to the store manager, who sits at the top of the store heap.
Alternatively, an employee could choose a merchandising track, starting as an assistant buyer of, say, dresses or men's suits before being promoted to buyer. From there, the employee becomes a divisional merchandise manager, supervising a "family" of merchandise (such as men's clothing, shoes and accessories) and a number of buyers. The final rung on this ladder is general merchandise manager, who oversees the divisional managers.