...Or should I become Nancy Botwin?
November 23, 2010 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Starting over in desperation filter: How to become a SA at department/jewelry stores?

It might be too little too late, but I'm looking for other sources of income as unemployment is going to run out soon.

I was thinking of getting a job at an upscale department store (e.g. Saks) or one of the top jewelry stores like VC & A. I figure if I'm going to work in retail hell, I might as well be surrounded by pretty things. =)

As someone with a library/web design background, it's a radical shift. Will this hinder me in getting a job (assuming they're hiring in the first place)?

Disclaimer: Yes, I've tried freelancing, but I'm an entry-level person so no one will give me a chance (or I just get screwed over working for free.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
An upscale department store like Saks, Neiman-Marcus, Barney's, etc. or a high-end jewelry store is almost certainly going to look for previous retail experience, especially at the holidays and especially in a year for which "some analysts think will show a sixth consecutive quarter in which year-on-year sales have fallen at U.S. stores open 12 months or more." (WSJ, 11/15/10)

(i.e. it's likely to be another not-great holiday season for retail, so they are looking for all-stars for their holiday help)

If you get a shop that is willing to overlook a lack of hands-on, "here were my average monthly top-producing numbers, here are the POS systems I'm fluent in" retail sales experience, they still are likely to ask what customer service or public-facing roles you've had recently.

I'm afraid that November is not really the time of year that established upscale retail companies hire sales staff who require a lot of on-the-job training. (January, on the other hand...)

As a "walk-on", you might have better luck in a retail support position that isn't public-facing (customer call center, inventory stocking, gift wrap), or possibly in a less-specialized, more down-market environment where they need bodies, lots of 'em, right now.

Best of luck in your search.
posted by pineapple at 2:57 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think your idea is a great start. While it's been many years since I've worked in retail, I think that it's still true that this is recruiting season for them. This may not be the best year ever, but retailers are still going to hire part-timers for the Christmas crush. The key is to really to a good job because they'll usually keep newbies if they are high performers and will let go of stale dead weight when the season is over. So, yes, this is always a great opportunity to get in the door.

It's for you to decide where you want to work but there is plenty of money to be made at Sears and Target etc. too.

Good luck!
posted by snsranch at 4:33 PM on November 23, 2010

Sure, it's temporary help season and it's a great time to get a reputation as a fantastic employee for future full-time consideration --- but high-end sales associates require as much in the way of skills and experience and knowledge as library and web design employment do in their respective fields.

Most likely what will hinder you in immediate employment in the retail field is that you don't have the sales figures and transferable skills from previous employment to back you up; and without experience or specific knowledge in these specific fields, you don't have the qualifications to get the numbers in the first place.

As well, most stores have already hired and trained their help at this time - and everyone is usually finished after the returns and sales season is over in January.

It's not easy to sell pretty things that nobody needs. And, it's not fun - it's work. If it were fun, anyone could just do it. And if you don't have the passion and flair for it, the customers can smell it and success will be elusive. It's not a last resort - it's a real job that people work hard to master. It's also usually commission-based, and you have to earn your way up there.

This is how I became a high-end jewellery salesperson at one of the schmancy stores in my city: When I was 15, I started working on weekends at the local antique market for cash under the table and a hefty discount. I learned at the owner's elbow about quality, design, designers, period styles, repair, and also about running a business, buying, selling and customer service. I went on to manage her store (on the books), and then a consignment shop upon her retirement. Then, I moved to this city at 22, and worked at another antique dealer's shop, also learning all the while but then handling even higher-end items, and while there I got my Graduate Jeweller's degree and began to study Gemology. After being robbed at gunpoint (a not inconsiderable job hazard) I left for a position at a retail store where I felt safer, that around the age of 25, where I learned more about items like watches and items good for up-selling, like gifts and jewellery boxes and tchotchkes (or, objet de vertu), ordering, stocking, retail mark-ups, repair, designing, construction, POS terminals (I went on to train others at other stores) and proactive selling, as well as things like corporate culture and I also fine-tuned my customer service skills. It took a lot of work (and quite a bit of grooming) to sell almost a million dollars a year in jewellery, and I had to compete against five others in my department to do well if I was going to make my 1-3% commissions on top of the $13 an hour base pay. From there I went on to run the Estate Jewellery, Timepieces, Couture and Objet de Vertu department of an auction house... but I can stop there for these purposes.

Now I'm forty, and a mom and the thought of putting on heels and hose and a black suit and constantly weighing my genuine desire to help people against the figures I need to make to earn a living and make a store profitable is daunting. I spent much of my day educating customers in how to make a good purchase that they'd feel secure about and happy with - returns suck. It was as much psychology, grunt work, enthusiasm and luck. I have a stack of letters from people I helped, and it will be fun to show my daughter some day; and on Valentine's day I still think of the hundred or so people I sold rings to that I know proposed then (and groan as much as I smile about it).

Now I work as a lunchroom supervisor and do other freelance work, I sell antiques and make more money than I ever did then and am happier. It was hard work all those years, to be "ON" every minute I was selling and then to be accountable to a big business at the end of it all. I had great co-workers who had my back, and others who'd steal sales without batting a lash. I'm still friends with many of them - I visit them at the jewellery stores where they're still doing well. It can be a lifetime career, if you're good at it.

So - if being a SA in a high-end environment is something you think you'd endeavor, then begin as you would end: Present yourself beautifully, sell yourself (because that's the first step in building a client's trust, let alone an employer's); educate yourself before and all the while by reading, watching, listening more than you speak, and following others' good examples and be willing to work your way up from the minimum to the maximum. And think about the specific education that will help you to do your job, though in retail, salesmanship is pretty much everything once you have the position.

And, good luck! I don't mean for this to be daunting - I think it's good work and it has value, but it's choosing, every day, to keep your place by being really good at what you do. Did I make it sound like the Devil Wears Prada? Because it kind of is, in the high-end. When I spent a summer at fifteen folding towels in a department store's discount section it wasn't at all like that - but I wasn't feeding a family then.
posted by peagood at 5:47 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

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