Fashion Employment : Retail’s trickiest challenge

Shopping. What an overdone, yet underestimated act. Whether you’re shopping to get rid of the overwhelming boredom distressing your day off or lunch break, or you are shopping simply as a humdrum act you barely even remember the actual purpose of it, shopping will always stay a capitalist invention that generates great profit while providing a certain entertainment. While shopping will never prevent war or abolish inequalities or even end hunger or poverty, it is one of first world’s greatest profitable and compelling industries. On a personal note, I have grown in an environment where shopping was an amusing way to please or congratulate yourself through the acquisition of superficial goods. However strange and perverse this might be, it is the corrupt, yet natural reality of most Americans. Not only does buying a new piece of clothing allow you to look beautiful, but it can also boost your self-esteem the same way as a wholehearted compliment would do.

So let’s talk about retail. The proper definition of retail is ” the process of selling consumer goods and/or services to customers through multiple channels of distribution to earn a profit”. In the US and Canadian retail market, the clothing and accessories industry represent more than 20% of the total revenues generated by retail companies, compared to 9% credited to the music, video and entertainment industry. While the actual concept of retail is applied to various supply chain companies such as groceries, super markets, I will concentrate this article mainly on fashion retail through the use of clothing stores.

In a society in which a prodigious and excessive amount of belongings is a mean of success and wealth, artificial goods have become more in demand and thus, are extensively spread around us. However, when you analyze the actual concept and sustainability of the so-called action of shopping, various components responsible for the success of the industry are challenged. Indeed, having experience in fashion retail, I have collected knowledge in this industry, noticing how every component permitting the erection of a maintainable company needs to be closely scrutinized and constantly improved. I believe various Canadian companies have overseen some of these components, leading to financial crisis.

Let’s face it. The Canadian fashion market for clothing companies have experienced drastic downfalls, forcing various Canadian companies to file for bankruptcy and liquidate their merchandise until the final closure of their stores. This was actually the case with Boutique Jacob, Parasuco Jeans, Mexx Canada, Smart Set and others. Following these collapsing events of desperate failures, various thorough researches have been made on the subject, challenging the various causes that led to the breakdown of these companies as well as the strategic components used by these companies in their stores.

I have come to realized, through my personal and professional experience, as well as through the readings I made on the subject, that the central and leading aspect a fashion retail company should rely on to assure great success and sustainability is its staff. Indeed, I strongly believe that a clothing or accessories company should greatly place reliance on the efficiency and proficiency of its employees to make greater profit.Since the consumer’s demand, created through diverse target markets and promotional tactics, keeps on increasing, satisfying efficiently consumers’ wants and needs through a lean supply chain of goods while generating great profits have become trickier than ever.

Since various highly prolific clothing companies, such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara, that delivers to astounding speed cheap clothing are starting to conquer the entire fashion market, low-key or regular retail chains with less capitals were given the burden of finding the right way to assure profitable success. Highly successful regular retail chains have decided to beat these overachiever chains, not with lowest prices, but with heavy investment in store employees, solid financial performance, and better customer service than their competitors. How clever! Indeed, investing in people and processes can actually drive quality up and costs down, which will eventually benefit employees, customers, and the company itself.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04:  Customers attend the Sephora Soho Store Re-Opening at Sephora Soho on May 4, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Sephora)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 04: Customers attend the Sephora Soho Store Re-Opening at Sephora Soho on May 4, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Sephora)


So, having said all that, why do you still get mediocre customer service in a large quantity of clothing stores? The main reason is that labor is often a retailer’s largest controllable expense and, in some cases, it could represent more than 10% of total revenues. Thus, since many retailers see labor as a cost driver rather than a sales driver, various companies have severely reduced by numbers their staff and cut in training budget in order to minimize its costs. It seems logic that whenever sales decrease, staffing levels are reduced to balance capitals since cutting employees is a direct, immediate, and easy way to measure and plan in an overall, year round budget. But, on the long-term run, drastic consequences might arise.

The problem is, even though less employees are working, retailers also underinvest in the quality of labor, providing inadequate training to its staff and therefore, affecting indirectly their annual sales. In addition, various retailers cannot afford to invest in employee training, even though the average training per new retail employee lasts only seven hours in the United States. Thus, what happened when untrained or poorly trained employees are put in charge of taking care of a store while having the responsibility to sell enough items to respect annual financial guidelines? The inevitable consequence of a high turnover of low-skilled employees who are often part-timers and have little or no commitment to their work is a gap in operational execution, which can be seen through less productivity and an increase of operative errors. Indeed, since operational execution requires people, well trained and efficient staff backed up with a specific set of operating practices can boost customer experience, increase profits and decrease costs.

In conclusion, while it might be extremely hard for retail employers to find the right employee, who will do great sales while respecting every guideline, and representing the company perfectly, the reliance on well-trained, passionate and professional employees is a necessity for the survival of an apparel store. Thus, next time you go shopping and leave a store with bags full of superficial goods and a hearty bill, ask yourself if you would have spent the same amount without the help of well-trained sales associates.

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