How to build and leverage your retail skills

Published Jan 27, 2021

In our first on-demand session of the spring for NRF Foundation All Access, we’re looking at how to build valuable skills that you can use in corporate roles and beyond.  

Target Senior Brand Marketing Manager Flora Ekpe-Idang talked with LISNR Co-founder Rodney Williams and Young King Hair Care Co-founder Stefan Miller about the lessons they learned from their retail journey that have served them throughout their careers and as they established their own ventures.

When your dream job isn’t listed, find the next closest thing

Miller says he always wanted to be a marketer, but when he graduated in 2008 during the Great Recession, it was tough to find an entry-level marketing role. So he turned to the next closest thing that he thought would be valuable: sales.

“If you’re ever going to sell a product or service down the road, you’ve got to be able to connect with people,” Miller says. “What job gives me an experience to be able to connect with people?”

Establish your value at your company

“When you show up at the company you’re working for, you’ve got to deliver,” Ekpe-Idang says. “You first have to build and prove the value that you’re bringing.”

At P&G, Williams says his equity was being able to merge digital with consumer packaged goods and create greater output. When the idea came for his own tech startup, he circulated it across the company.

“I found myself getting a chance to sit in front of the chief innovation officer and pitch my idea,” Williams says. “Don’t shy away from a great idea in entrepreneurship. Good management – when they see that talent – it’s important for them to nourish it.”

Seek out assignments that will help you grow

As a young brand manager, Williams remembers intentionally steering away from brands he was familiar with, like Gillette and Old Spice. He went a different route and asked to be put where they thought he would be best. They assigned him to Pampers baby diapers – the largest brand in the company. 

He now calls it the “best thing” for his development, even if he didn’t realize it immediately. 

“I didn’t really know much about parenting, so for me to understand how I could make an impact to that business, I spent a lot of time in stores watching parents shop,” Williams says. “That brand needed the biggest and most amount of transformation.”

He recalls seeing a dad or mom load their cart with boxes of diapers, ending up without space for everything else they needed to get. It was solving for that type of pain point that eventually led him to found a technology company of his own.

Take every opportunity to understand consumers

Retail makes you appreciate the insights that are driving people to purchase.

Miller gleaned this lesson in his early work at General Mills with brand management for Progresso soup, LÄRABAR and Cascadian Farm – not brands at first glance he would consider “cool.” But the experience taught him specific skills that he used as he moved to other projects.

“I would spend a lot of quality time in stores and in focus groups, really listening and trying to understand consumer needs,” says Miller, who in 2019 launched a line of products specifically for the grooming needs of Black and Brown boys. “I learned through my corporate experience how to meet that unfilled need, create happiness or eliminate a problem that people have.”

This spring, we’ve made it even easier for you to access our conversations with retail professionals. We’re releasing new, on-demand conversations weekly so you can watch when it’s convenient for you. Our full library of on-demand content (including sessions from the fall) is available for free here.

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