First in an occasional series on recruiting
In retailing, "e-commerce is driving the bus," said Ann Burton, founder of Wolfgang Harbor, a boutique Philadelphia-based company that recruits upper management in fashion, beauty, design, e-commerce, and retailing.
When it comes to employment trends, specialty recruiters such as Burton are on the front lines of what is in demand in their sectors.
In the United States., nearly 16 million people work in retailing and, Burton said, what is developing are twin career tracks - online and in-store - that used to be separate but are now increasingly intertwined.
"The website has to drive traffic to the store," she said, "and the store has to drive traffic to the website."
In particular demand now, Burton said, are website merchandise managers - the online counterpart to a similar position in store divisions.
"It's a candidate's market," Burton said, with compensations in the $90,000-to-$100,000 range for people with experience.
Merchandise managers - in stores and online - figure out what merchandise will be sold, how the brands will fit together, how they will be displayed and how they will be promoted. The managers take on larger areas of responsibility as they rise through the ranks.
In stores, they might decide which items would be grouped together - by designer, color, function. They might supervise store signage. They might devise the underlying "story" of the store, creating an image of high-fashion, or casual chic, or funky.
Online, it's much the same, with the website telling the "story." Plus, the online merchandise managers "have to know search-engine optimization."
Website merchandise managers could be in line for a promotion to director of e-commerce, another job that's in high demand and another position where there are more jobs than candidates, Burton said.
E-commerce directors need to know everything about website merchandising. They must also understand logistics and supply-chain management - "everything it takes from the customer pushing the click button to buy something to delivering the package," she said.
Merchandise planners are also in demand, Burton said. They figure out how much buyers can spend on merchandise, driving their decisions on what and how to buy based on sales data.
"They are the historians of the company. They know what sold last year, what color, what time, did it rain on the day we ran that promotion," she said.
Software developers are in short supply. "They are inundated with opportunities," she said. "To them, I'm like the Antichrist. They're getting at least 10 emails a day. I'm just annoying to them."
On the flip side, there are more candidates than positions for regional sales managers on the supplier side, she said. "We're getting a lot of applicants who were in wholesale sales."
More retailers are developing in-house designing and production, so they aren't buying as much from fashion houses, she said.
Burton, who grew up in Nebraska, studied art history at Temple University before moving on to a master's degree in fashion design at Drexel University.
She landed design jobs in New York before working for a Chinese manufacturer of children's furnishings - the idea being to coordinate the portable playpen with the car seat with the baby carriage.
When the recession struck, she was laid off but got hired at Charming Shoppes Inc., in Bensalem, until that company, which catered to the plus-sized market, was sold. She went on to freelance but ultimately decided to move into recruiting, first working for another company and then starting her own business.
"There's some hustler to me," Burton said. She works in partnership with LGM Consulting in West Hartford, Conn.
Having been laid off twice, Burton still marvels at how much her field has become a candidate's market, complete with signing bonuses in the thousands of dollars.
"I was scratching for jobs," she said.
The candidates she fields most value flexibility and work-life balance, she said.
"I know there is a beer-and-pool-table culture" for millennial workers, she said, but most of them want regular feedback, opportunities to make a difference and "not to have to work until 10 p.m. every night."
Companies are looking for people who are entrepreneurial. "Influential continues to be a key word for my clients," she said. "They want people to have opinions, make a case, and present their ideas clearly."
Tips on how to build a career in fashion design, merchandising, retail, and e-commerce.
Education: Seek degrees in design, merchandising business, marketing, fashion design.
Internships: Look for positions that transition into strong executive training programs offered by companies such as Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Lord & Taylor.
Executive training programs: Tend to teach solid financial practices, management tools, and brand-appropriate taste and merchandising skills.
Start-ups: Experience in small or midsize start-ups allows early breadth of responsibilities and signals ambition, passion, teamwork.