Getting into area management
Managing across a multi-site environment is one of the more challenging aspects of a career in retail or hospitality. Find out if you've got what it takes to make the step up.
For readers who are not in stores, it is worth noting here that area managers have the power to put the fear of the gods into store managers. Invariably turning up un-announced ready to pick fault with the merchandising, or perhaps to find that light bulb that blew just before he or she arrived.
Being an area manager though is much more than checking light bulbs and the dusting. In fact it could be regarded as one of the most difficult jobs in retail. Yes you have a lot of power, but you don't have control. As a store manager, you can give your staff direction and you are there to ensure that the work gets done. As an area manager you can give direction but you may not know whether your managers have implemented your directions for several weeks or perhaps at all.
Area management can be lonely too. Any store manager thinking about moving into an area management role needs to recognise that there is a down side. The camaraderie and team spirit will no longer be there. At best you will be seen as perhaps the friendly policeman.
Nevertheless, despite the obvious downside, most store managers will still aspire to that next level and so here are a few pointers:
• Be realistic. If you're in a tiny store, you are not going to make area manager until you've managed one of the big stores, ideally the flagship. Likewise, it is very difficult to move from one company as a store manager to another as an area manager, unless your store is enormous.
• Bear in mind there will be competition for this role. You will know who your rivals are. You have to be better than they are. This sadly is not always about your sales results. You may think that's unfair but the store manager who runs the highest turnover store or has put on the biggest increase is not necessarily the best candidate for area management. How well is that person going to get on with others in head office? What are their relationships like with the buyers or merchandisers or perhaps even the owners? Area managers are typically the conduit between head office and stores. It is not only their relationship with their own staff that counts.
• Your ability to manage upwards will be at least as important as your ability to manage downwards. If you're too much of a maverick you probably won't get to the next stage.
• Do consider if this is something that you really want. Do you really want to spend half your week on the road? There are other ways to get on. Perhaps go to a company with much larger stores. The manager of a large fashion store could easily move up into a large department store. Such a role carries at least the equivalent status and rewards.
• As a store manager, you have management trainees. Work as hard as you can to make them successful. This will show you have the skill to develop junior managers that are likely to be running some of the stores for which you would be responsible.
• If you apply for area manager jobs with other companies and are lucky enough to get an interview, great. If you don't get the job ask the employer why, but you don't have to argue with their decision. However any feedback they give you will help you in your quest to move into this role.
• If you get the chance to run satellite stores, grab it. For example, if your nearest store is without a manager, volunteer to oversee it until the new manager is appointed. The biggest concern any employer has about taking someone into area management from stores is that ability to manage more than one site. Satellite experience is a major step in the right direction.