It’s always difficult to know how to get ahead and climb the retail job ladder without falling off and spraining your ankle. Where on earth do you begin? Well you can always learn from example, RetailChoice spoke to Sarah Rotheram, CEO of perfume house Penhaligon's about what it takes to succeed in the industry.
Jigsaw: Assistant manager (age 21)
It may surprise you to learn that Sarah never intended to have a career in retail, but it was her enjoyment and commitment to the role that changed her career plans. After university, Sarah took an assistant manager job at Jigsaw simply because she needed a salary, but quickly came to love working on the shop floor. Realising that she had the talent and ability to do well, she looked to retail management as a career. "Deciding to go to Alexon Group was the first big decision – I knew I was ambitious, it was the start of forging a proper career in retail management."
BIG MOVE: Committing to retail management.
Alexon Group: Concession manager (age 23)
From Jigsaw, she moved to the Alexon Group, and began managing the company’s concessions. The role was different from her previous job and involved looking after numerous stores.
"This was a huge learning curve for me – suddenly I was managing team of older ladies who were sceptical about a new young manager; it was hard to win their trust. It was here that I started to develop a stronger management style, focusing on service and moving to a more rounded service ethic."
BIG MOVE: Moving to a bigger group and gaining more insight into the commerciality and measurement processes.
Topshop: Store manager (age 25)
From managing older colleagues at Alexon, Sarah had to adapt to managing 16 and 17 year olds in her new position at Topshop, a role she relished: "I’d managed a store for the Alexon Group, but managing the Topshop store for the Arcadia Group was a real step up towards building my retail career. It was an exciting place to be – dealing with a very high turnover of stock and at a time when Jane Shepperton’s creative direction was having a massive impact on the brand."
Sarah learnt a lot from this role, and the emphasis on commerciality that her store manager job offered became a key component in her retail career: "The strong commerciality and analytical approach that Arcadia had was the motivation to go to Topshop – to be part of that structure, with solid measurement and reporting helped me to develop processes that work. The Arcadia group was renowned for its commercial approach and this was an area of expertise that I needed to help progress my career."
BIG MOVE: moving up the management chain and the switch to cosmetics.
Molton Brown: store manager – regional manager (age 27)
After leaving Topshop, Molton Brown was the next destination in Sarah’s climb up the retail ladder, where she expanded her skills and moved from her fashion role into cosmetics. If her time at Molton Brown taught Sarah anything, it was that if you want to get ahead in retail, it's good to join a growing business.
"Molton Brown was a small, growing brand that allowed me to get involved with so many things beyond store management, and I grew with the business," she says. Sarah did well in her role, and quickly became a regional manager in London and went on to open stores in the rest of Europe and the USA.
This position allowed Sarah to take her experience of managing people forward: "The management were incredible for making me (and everyone else) feel empowered and included, this has massively shaped my approach to managing teams." This experience would prove vital in Sarah’s next big move.
BIG MOVE: Choosing the company based on their passion for the product and creativity, not the salary.
Penhaligon's: UK VP of sales - CEO (age 34)
Moving to Penhaligons at this stage in her career was a decision that Sarah took on a creative basis, and shows the luxury of having multiple offers when you get to a senior position in your retail career. Sarah decided not to work for whichever company paid the most, but instead picked the one which fitted her working method the best.
"After MB, I had job offers from some of the larger retail groups with higher salary rates, which may have been the typical move, but something about Penhaligons seemed right." says Sarah. "It had a small turnover and a small footprint, but a wonderful brand with amazing heritage. Plus it was British and niche, something of a rarity. It represented an opportunity to tap into more creative resources, building a brand with incredible heritage."
BIG MOVE: the switch to CEO
For Sarah, becoming CEO was all about choosing the right job based on what appealed to her sense of creativity as well as her passion for the product: "When I was just running Penhaligon's sales I loved my job, and the offer to be CEO of L’Artisan Parfumeur, Penhaligon's and Enro Laszlo was a significant move. I was never not going to do it, but it felt like a risk moving from a role that was satisfying and that I enjoyed. Of course, it turned out great and I love my job even more."
So what advice would Sarah give anyone looking for their dream retail job? "Don’t have a life plan. The most impressive business people I've met have always grasped new opportunities, changed path or direction and made something of it.
Keep your eyes open for new opportunities and don’t be afraid to jump if your heart tells you it's right."
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