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What You May Not Know About Retail Leaders

Updated: Feb 6

Hint - they're savvy as hell and underpaid.

Written by: Kit Campoy

Have you ever been so completely overwhelmed that you had to stop what you were doing? Like, physically stop. You couldn't move your limbs because your brain couldn't quite figure out how to move your body. All of your senses had maxed out at the same time.

I have.

I know what it's like to be physically drowning in work. I've had to stop everything and steady myself, or I thought I might collapse on the back room floor and never be found.

This is what it feels like to lead a retail team. It feels like playing a game of chess and running a marathon simultaneously. After managing retail buildings for over twenty years, I know this feeling well.

After college, I worked my way up through retail leadership. Throughout my career, I worked for eight companies. I was a Store Manager at three. My last building was a ten-thousand-square-foot beast with sixty employees.

When I ran stores, I'd wear my hair tied up in a messy ponytail, a pen stuck through the middle of it. I was usually sweaty. I wore jeans and slip-on Vans. Most days, I couldn't remember putting on my mascara or driving to work. My caffeine buzz never lasted long enough.

Two minutes was typically all the time I had to sort out a problem. I learned how to shift priorities on a dime, take a deep breath, and move forward. I learned how to tell people no and do it with compassion.

Running a retail store is a never-ending barrage of top-down memos, tasks, instructions, and enforcing outdated policies. I also got really great at asking the same questions all day long and doing it with a smile.

Retail leaders of brick-and-mortar buildings typically get the most work, the worst pay, and nowhere to submit feedback.

I got horrible raises. I watched the minimum wage increase yearly, and my Assistant Managers' hourly rates crept closer to mine with every annual review.

Gas prices skyrocketed, and gridlock got worse.

Retail is one of the few places where tenure and expertise aren't rewarded with a larger salary. The longer I worked in the industry, the worse my paychecks seemed to be. I got unpaid "stretch assignments" to help keep me engaged and challenged; our sales bonuses were pushed out of reach.

Retail leaders receive massive amounts of communication from corporate offices and multiple bosses. We'd have to figure out how to make the directives fit our building. We'd have to tweak everything to make it work, but we saw ourselves as business owners, and we'd sure as hell get the job done.

Sometimes we'd drag out a tool kit. Sometimes we'd need the first aid kit. We'd always figure it out. The Gen X-er in me did not see failure as an option. I leaned on my talented team to help me through busy days and unrelenting pressure.

Retail leaders are some of the savviest people on the planet. They understand running a business better than anybody because they see the whole picture. They know the flow of customers, they know their community, and they know what's not selling.

They understand the business in a global way.

The skills I acquired in retail leadership could've taken me almost anywhere. I am a freelance writer today because of the tenacity and business savvy I learned in retail.

Not everyone can make it in retail. We must appreciate and reward the people that can.


Meet the Author

Kit Campoy

Hey, I’m Kit. I’m a former retail leader turned freelance writer. I publish a (free!) radically people-first leadership newsletter, The Voice of the Frontline, every week. Sign up here.



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