Thinking Big: Out-of-town retail
Big box, or out-of-town, retailing has come under the spotlight in recent times after the Portas review found that this sector was thriving, possibly at the detriment of the high street. But there are many opportunities available for those wishing to work, or progress in the sector.
In March, a multimillion-pound funding package was announced, designed to breathe new life into Britain's ailing high streets. This is the end result of the review carried out by Mary "Queen of Shops" Portas, the recommendations of which the Government has accepted.
The review showed that out-of-town retail sales increased from 28.1% in 2000 to 31.5% in 2011 and are predicted to rise again to 32.3% in 2014. Meanwhile, town centre sales, which were 49.4% of total sales in 2000 were down to 42.5% in 2011 and are predicted to be 39.8% in 2014.
The success of the out-of-town and big box sectors was predicted by Verdict back in 2008, which said that it would lead the resurgence of the retail sector.
It would be a mistake to think that out-of-town retailing is the answer to the future of retailing though; it too has its challenges. Big box retailing has been left licking its wounds after the collapse of Best Buy.
Carphone Warehouse pulled the plug on the concept last year. The venture had faced an uphill struggle from the start in an electricals market squeezed particularly hard by the financial climate and cash-strapped consumers shying away from big ticket purchases.
Whether large, out-of-town developments could be the foundation on which retail regains its former status remains to be seen, but at the current time it seems more prudent to concentrate efforts on bringing the high street up to the popularity of out-of-town, rather than penalising out-of-town to bring it down to the level of the high street.
But what does this sector offer in the way of careers? The challenges of a management role in big box retailing are manifold; these units deal with massive stock volumes, often with multimillion-pound turnovers and teams that are considerably larger than is usual in town centre stores.
Of course, the store managers need to be diehard retailers, with a wide range of skills across management, logistics, analysis, HR and merchandising. It is a big role with great responsibility but equally it gives great sense of achievement and job satisfaction...
Company focus: Outfit
Ian Jones - Head of Retail
What is Outfit?
Outfit is a successful part of Arcadia Group Limited that delivers a chain of retail stores specifically on out-of-town retail parks. We offer a wide selection of well-known fashion brands all under the one roof including, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, TopShop, Miss Selfridge, Wallis, Evans, Oasis and Warehouse. This gives our customers a great selection of fantastic brands from which they can shop.
What do you think are the advantages of out-of-town retail locations compared to the high street? Do you think that one will eventually eclipse the other?
Out-of-town retailing has been an area of growth for several years now.
Not only are retailers looking for the best deals in terms of rents and rates, but the advantages to customers of extended trading hours and free/heavily reduced car parking fees, together with great road infrastructure means that out-of-town retailing will continue to prosper.
Retailers are continuing to invest in out-of-town opportunities and we can see the tenant line-up on retail parks becoming increasingly compelling, offering customers a large variety of choice and quality, well-known names.
However, whilst the out-of-town experience grows, the attraction of high street shopping will prevail. The extensive variety and additional customer attractions will ensure that our high streets continue to entice customers into our towns and cities.
I believe that there are opportunities for both markets to work together to offer our customers the best possible choice and experience, and ensure that Britain remains a strong retailing nation.
How would you characterise the culture within your business?
Outfit's culture is based on each person believing they are part of a bigger team and that they have a role to play in fulfilling the overall strategy. Everyone is passionate about Outfit, from the part-time sales advisors to the senior management team, everyone works hard to deliver and be the best they can be. The strong, visible, credible leadership provides support and challenge and opportunities to develop are readily available, with high rates of internal succession.
We seek feedback and listen to our people and believe that Outfit is a great place to work for our teams and a great place to shop for our customers.
What do you think qualifies your business as an employer of choice?
Outfit has always placed the utmost importance on its people. Our teams flourish in a supportive and dynamic environment.
We offer opportunities to work in a highly respected and profitable part of the Arcadia Group, which continues to grow its portfolio of stores in a time when many businesses are shrinking. Individuals are able to influence the business strategy and great results are recognised.
We understand that to be successful is about leadership, not just management; it's about giving tools to support success and encouragement to develop your skills and experience.
If you had to characterise your company's plans for 2012 in a single word or phrase, what would it be?
One word would be really difficult! Put simply our focus is on protecting and growing the like-for-like base and secondly growing the overall estate through new store openings.
What qualities, skills and experience do you most look for when recruiting store management?
• Great interpersonal skills - the ability to communicate and build effective relationships with a wide variety of networks. The ability to influence upwards as well as get the most out of every member of their team is key.
• A track record for driving results - someone who takes personal responsibility, is 'sales-obsessed' and keeps a tight rein on costs
• The ability to deliver each of our brands whilst balancing the Outfit integrity.
• A 'can-do'/flexible approach - with all of the brands it's key that managers can prioritise their day and juggling their tasks/people focus.
How do you develop your managers?
Every role has a development opportunity to help them attain their next role in the business.
We pride ourselves on the development we offer and the closeness we have with our people in the business. This knowledge helps us to achieve our high internal promotion rate.
Recruiter focus: Retail Human Resources
How you pitch the big box or large out-of-town retail environment to candidates, given it's challenging nature and particularly in the light of the Portas review?
Big box retailing is a totally different beast to smaller high street retailing. The turnovers tend to be significantly higher which means that the team sizes are also larger.
This is the route that many people take who have no desire to get into area management - a store manager of a large Tesco/B&Q store etc. could be on £80k which is higher than that of an area manager on the high street who will typically be on £45/50k.
Also, there are often more stores in the company profile with the big box retailers. The clients with whom I work generally have about 300 stores or more, whereas your average high street chain may have 150/200, meaning there are more opportunities to progress into a more senior role.
How are candidates who work in these areas viewed/regarded in the industry? Are they more in demand/valued more highly than managers who run smaller stores?
Candidates in this sector are as in demand as in any other - they just have a totally different skill set. Fashion retailers for example are more about visuals and service whereas the big box retailers have a stock and systems focus too. The difference would be that the salaries in these roles are much higher.
What are the salary differences between this sector and other areas of retail management?
Whilst it is hard to give specifics we find that, generally, high street managers may get £25k to £40k depending on turnover, whilst area managers in the is sector may get between £45k and £55k. Meanwhile, a store manager of a large, out-of-town retailer may get anywhere from £40k to £100k per year.
Company focus: Retail Human Resources
Jason Ellis - Senior Account Manager
Company focus: Toys 'R' Us
Jo Elliott - Training Support Manager
What qualities, skills and experience do you most look for when recruiting for managers/senior staff at this level?
People with a passion for retail who are looking to expand their career by moving to a larger unit.
How does your business help experienced store managers make the leap to this level?
A thorough training programme ensures that even the most experienced managers are fully trained in Toys "R" Us policies and procedures before taking up their role.
What are the challenges/rewards in working at an out-of-town/large unit compared to your other outlets (if appropriate)?
Most Toys "R" Us stores are out-of-town and occupy large units and being a destination retailer means that every customer has travelled just to visit you!
Due to their sheer size, one of the challenges is getting around the entire store to ensure we are visible to our customers and offering the very best service, but all that walking also keeps you fit!
Another great advantage is that our team benefit from free parking in every one of our stores, something that's at a premium on the high street.
What do you think are the advantages of out-of-town retail locations compared to the traditional high street? Do you think that one will eventually eclipse the other?
Both have their benefits but the biggest advantage is the choice for the customer. Towns that offer both out-of-town and high street options are better equipped for meeting the customer's needs.
How would you characterise the working culture at your business?
Fun, energetic and hands-on.
What do you think qualifies your business as an employer of choice?
Opportunities - different size and different volume stores offer different opportunities to our management teams.
We're also continuing to grow with new store openings, store conversions and Christmas 'pop-up' stores and our 'promote from within' culture means fantastic opportunities for our managers.
If you had to characterise your company's plans for 2012 in a single word, what would it be?
What's the most exciting initiative currently taking place/set to be launched within your business?
As a fast paced toy, babycare and family leisure retailer there is something new happening every week to excite both our teams and our customers.