Retail’s diminishing talent pool

learning-classroom-education-trainingWhy has the experienced retailer become such a rare commodity and how do we reverse this crippling trend?

Companies spend a fortune setting up a campus of coaching modules in an endeavour to replicate the ideal trader – a fanciful delusion by personnel of the schooled persuasion. Woefully unaware that the retailer’s greatest challenge is converting theory into practice, thus appeasing corporate and customer alike.

Others choose to puppeteer from a central hub, preferring to rely upon a docile key-holder. Unaware of self-destructive tendencies brought about by an inability to embrace change and a crew of paper-shufflers incapable of responding to fickle trading conditions.

Then there are those who promote ludicrous silver bullet programs in the hope of generating seasoned retailers from fast-track training schemes. If you reduce the maturation period of whiskey, you will be left with something that may look the part, but tastes like rotgut. And the same is true of retail.

Most lose direction and conviction in what it is they are trying to achieve and end up using a combination of the quick-fix techniques. More often than not, this results in well-groomed replicas of the, “more than my job’s worth” brigade – bad habits and all.

Retail is not, and never will be, a science. It is an art form that engages science to maintain it.

True to retail, the answer is simple, but not easy. There are no shortcuts in producing the consummate retailer. In today’s fast, fierce and disposable world, this skilful, sometimes misconstrued money-maker, is essential.

There is a dwindling window in which to exploit the expertise of the silver-fox retailer. Be sure to safeguard their longevity and celebrate their eccentricity, for they will impart more knowledge and inspire deeper than any newfangled scheme. For many outlets it is already too late, leaving a void that can only be filled if leadership cultivate a long-term culture and commit to nurturing an appropriate apprenticeship toward a fulfilling career.

Above all, it takes time, with exposure to as many opportunities that the trading floor has to offer – and not forgetting competent mentors for the self-development of personal brands amid corporate imprints. An understanding that both are crucial in embedding entrepreneurial behaviours within defined parameters.

Retail is for the retailer – they are the defining force. Not only in the shop, but in every aspect of the business. It is then down to the professions, sciences and back-up services to secure the vision.

The flatter the company structure, the better the synergy between retailer and desired outcome. Retailers could do without the all too familiar unproductive middle echelon, who resist change, are threatened by initiative and fearful of innovation – lest they are exposed for what they aren’t.

Look behind the theatrical scenes of preeminent merchants and you will find a wealth of promising and accomplished retailers – confident to challenge the norm in their compulsion to initiate and forge ideas and concepts.

I’ll leave you with an apt quote from Sir Richard Branson: “I never get the accountants in before I start up a business. It’s done on gut feeling, especially if I can see that they are taking the mickey out of the consumer”.

Dave Farrell is retailer with three decades experience on three continents. He can be reached at



  1. Stuart Bennie posted on March 30, 2016

    Dave Some excellent points. I used to believe that retailers were a rare breed and you needed to grow up through the ranks. I have changed my views. Vision is what it is all about and some outsiders do this better than the old school because they don't have the baggage.

    • Dave posted on March 31, 2016

      Thanks for taking the time Stuart. Vision has its place but equally critical are those who deliver on the vision. A talent pool full of visionaries wont cut it.

  2. Jeanne posted on March 31, 2016

    Insightful post - well written.

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