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The Wide World of Retail

Clustered in groups of three, the students in Professor Heather Richards’s classroom research career options.  The job titles pile up as they talk to each other—executive team leader, security and loss director, supply chain manager, merchandiser, and planner.  They view job descriptions along with starting salaries, both of which are impressive.

The assembled undergraduates comprise the first class in the Introduction to Retail Management course, the first offering for the new Retail Management concentration at Nichols. 

“The retail world is growing,” emphasizes Management Chair Leonard Samborowski, whose view is supported by the better than $5 trillion spent annually in the United States on retail purchases. “People are going to buy things and you’re going to be either the consumer or the manager of the product.  We’re developing the managers of the product.”

The most familiar jobs in the retail field include the sales associates at stores in every mall or the greeters at Walmart, but Samborowski says that they represent the tip of a retail iceberg.  There are plenty of management and leadership opportunities in the back office and corporate headquarters, he notes.

“This program isn’t teaching students to stock shelves.  We’ve talked to industry professionals, and they need people to lead and make decisions,” adds Richards, who points out the promotional opportunities for college graduates in entry-level jobs.

“They’re not going to be in that role for long.  It’s an advancement-oriented field,” Richards continues, noting that even new retail employees can expect significant pay.  “Salaries are higher than for most entry level managers in business,” she says.  That has something to do with the long hours required, but that’s true for every professional management role.”

The Nichols Management program is rolling out additional courses over the next year, including Merchandising and Retail Management.  Students in the retailing concentration may also take Ethical Retail, Global Retail, and the Supply Chain.

The students in Richards’s class on this Monday morning are getting a taste of the latter topic. “In any industry, if someone in the supply chain is holding things up,  you need to move them along.  The same is true of retail,” she tells the class, citing how many stores this past holiday season sold out of the wildly popular toys, the Hatchables, without being able to replace them promptly.

“What do you have to do as a store to make sure your supplies are keeping up?” she asks.

“You have to forecast accurately,” a student responds.

The students in this class—a number of whom work at part time jobs in retail stores—are also beginning to recognize career opportunities. “Retail has always interested me,” says Nichols junior Aaron Perry, adding that his own experience as a consumer hasn’t been lost on him.  “Everybody’s gone into a store to buy food, electronics, and shoes.”

Existing Nichols courses including Business Marketing, Human Resource Management, and Sales and Marketing for Entrepreneurs will bolster the new retail management offerings.

Students in the new concentration will also receive an education for a retail world dominated by online companies like Amazon.  “There’s always going to be a brick and mortar niche,” Samborowski predicts. “But we recognize the e-commerce side and how retailing has changed.”

There’s also always going to be a place for entrepreneurs who develop new products or services, and the retail management program will reinforce the entrepreneurial education already available to Nichols students, including senior Anthony Razzano.  “I took the course so I can eventually own my own business,” says Razzano, who aims to find a niche attractive to potential customers.  “Retail is in everything.”