Retail Big Conversation: Retaining top talent

The Australian retail sector has an enormous talent pool to draw upon, yet struggles to retain the best talent to meet the demands of a rapidly changing market. Six Degrees Executive Retail Recruitment Manager Chris Barr explores the issue with Luke Naish, CEO of Barbeques Galore.

For millions of young people, working in the retail sector has always been a time-honoured way of making ends meet while studying or working out what they want to do with their lives. But only a handful stay on to make a life-long career in retail. Luke Naish, CEO of Barbeques Galore, believes the sector is missing out on a priceless opportunity to capture the attention of talent early on and convince them to stay in retail.

What makes people leave retail? According to Luke, the answer lies in perception, a lack of investment in people and a dearth of clear career paths.

Luke, why don’t young people see retail as a long-term career destination?

The challenge for retailers lies in projecting the understanding that a career in retail is more than the shop floor. It can be a store role or a supporting role like buying, marketing, supply chain or IT. Retail is a variety of different disciplines under the one banner, but the public perception is very different to what a career in retail actually involves and the opportunities it offers.

The industry doesn’t necessarily go out of its way to promote and attract talent. There are approximately two million people employed in retail – we could do a better job in advocating a career path from that immense pool, creating a talent identification process to keep talent in retail.

Why aren’t retailers working collectively to promote retail as an attractive career option?

Two reasons – there has always been the sheer weight of numbers coming through, so the sector hasn’t felt the need for a collaborative effort to attract talent. Retailers also tend to look after their own interests – why should they help their competitors attract talent?

It’s critical that retailers promote our industry in a positive way – we need to show people a career in retail offers challenge, development, progression and opportunity. How do we do that? Through an advisory body of CEOs and retailer leaders who can be advocates for careers in the sector. We should have done it before now because we need a collective and positive voice. This body could challenge retailers on their thinking and approach to talent attraction, development and retention.

Do you believe retailers invest sufficiently in their people?

Employees are putting retailers on notice. We are at risk of losing people if we don't invest in their development. We need to provide the tools and support for people to grow in their careers and that can add immense value to your business, too. Retailers should look for potential in everyone, and do everything they can to cultivate it within their own business.

At present, many retailers have to rely on overseas talent to strengthen capabilities across buying and merchandise, operations and even executive leadership positions. Australian students at high school, college or university do not currently see retail as a profession and a career option. Retail doesn't have a clearly defined career path and there's very little in the way of academic programs for students to consider.

This is where we need to start: promoting our industry to young people exploring their career options. We need to do a better job of cultivating talent, investing in tertiary programs and providing the skills young people need to have a career in retail.

What would you say to someone in high school considering a career in retail?

Retail is a tremendous springboard for life. You will learn what it means to work hard, take responsibility, integrate and work with a team, learn how to lead, problem solve, challenge and know how good it feels to make a difference. You will be empowered and given responsibility and know what high performance means. You can measure your success by the results you produce and the satisfaction you get from it.

If you are fortunate to join a great business there can be wonderful opportunities for your career. Remember, retail is not just store roles; it includes supply chain, IT, HR, marketing, digital and so on... there are so many areas for people to explore within the sector.

What sort of skills are needed to succeed in a retail career?

Retail is dynamic and always changing. We will see a greater need for better digital capability; people who have a deeper understanding of data analytics, smarter logistics and improved systems and processes.

The sheer complexity of running a retail business coupled with the need to execute with absolute clarity and precision means there will be a need for a higher standard of capability and diversity in the talent pool. We're seeing digitisation and technology being powerful enabling drivers for improved customer experience. It's becoming a more sophisticated industry that will require stronger and more dynamic skillsets, but retail is notorious for not investing enough in training in stark contrast to the pace of change within the industry.

Everything in retail is measurable. You've got to go out and ultimately deliver the goods – figuratively and literally. At the heart of every retail business is a performance culture. You can have the best talent in the world, the best training in the world, you can have the best CV but if you cannot bring results to life on a consistent basis it will amount to nothing. Results come from hard work, determination to succeed, a passion for what you do and a belief in the journey you are on.

What are the top three ways retailers can retain top talent?

  • Ensure every employee is offered a career plan. Why attract new talent if you’re not going to develop them? For those who show promise, we've got to have conversations about where they want to go, how we can help them get there and what their expectations are. Ultimately, we need to think about how we reduce talent shortages in our business today and in the future.

  • Promote your organisation’s purpose, values and environment. The purpose and values of your brand are an important part of attracting top talent, as they can make people feel a connection and want to be a part of something important. It’s also vital to ensure your retail environment resonates with talented employees. When you have a conversation about retail, does their heart rate quicken? Does it heighten their energy levels?

  • Rotate your top talent: If people genuinely want a career in retail and have aspirations of becoming a leader, they will need exposure to different disciplines. You are then cultivating a well-rounded retail leader who knows how every element of a retail business operates. It also keeps people with high learning potential challenged and stimulated.


Speak to Chris Barr and the Six Degrees Executive Retail recruitment team to learn more about attracting and retaining top talent in retail.