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Apparel Retailing: A Good Fit for You?

Apparel Retailing: A Good Fit for You?

Wander through any mall or shopping center, and most stores sell something for someone to wear. Apparel retailing is obviously a major part of the retail industry, but would it suit you as a career?

A Major Niche

Apparel retailers include department stores, mass merchandisers, specialty stores, national chains, outlets, online stores, mail-order companies, and discount and off-price stores. Retailers, such as Gap and Victoria's Secret, that sell their own private labels are directly involved in garment design and manufacturing.

In 1999, according to the US Census Bureau, 68,801 retail clothing and accessory firms were doing business in the US. Those firms operated 151,674 establishments, with 1,293,439 employees. Annual payroll was almost $2 billion.

It's Very Competitive

Intense competition in the US has caused a great deal of contraction and restructuring among apparel sellers. Mass marketers and discount retailers with low overhead costs and low prices, like Wal-Mart and TJ Maxx, are getting a significant share of the sales that traditional apparel retailers, such as department and specialty stores, rely on.

Apparel Retailing Jobs

Despite a tight economy and the retailers dropping from the scene due to bankruptcies, mergers and acquisitions, the Department of Labor (DOL) recorded about 4 million wage and salary jobs in department, clothing and accessory stores in 2000. The DOL expects this number to increase 4 percent by 2010, as compared to the 15 percent increase projected for all US industries combined.

Blame this relatively slow growth on the increasing popularity of discounters and megaretailers. Besides stressing low prices, these firms emphasize self-service and tend to be less labor-intensive than traditional retailers.

Here's a breakdown of the jobs in apparel retailing:

  • Sales associates and cashiers: 65 percent.  
  • Office and administrative support personnel, such as stock clerks, order fillers and customer service representatives: 17 percent.  
  • Management, business and financial operations personnel, such as department and store managers, buyers and merchandise managers: 3.5 percent.
  • The rest of apparel retailing jobs are in other areas, such as security, information technology and transportation.

Many jobs in apparel stores are part-time. During busy periods, such as holidays and the back-to-school season, long hours are typical, and even buyers and managers can't take time off.

Specialists Can Specialize

Giants like Wal-Mart or Target aren't going to swallow all apparel specialty retailers. Specialty apparel chains continue to take market share away from the traditional department store and mass merchandiser, according to NPD Group, a New York-based market research firm. Apparel purchases at specialty stores totaled $19.3 billion in the first half of 2000, up 6.3 percent from 1999.

Successful specialty apparel stores focus on lucrative niches such as:

  • Bridal  
  • Exercise and fitness  
  • Handbags  
  • Hosiery, lingerie and underwear  
  • Maternity  
  • Petite  
  • Plus Sizes 
  • Swimwear 
  • Women's and junior's  
  • Women's shoes

There's a lot of competition in the apparel marketplace. Still, as long as people are interested in looking good, apparel retail will be a cornerstone of the industry. If you want to work in fashion retail -- in a small or large store, retailing apparel from jeans to ball gowns -- there is probably a retailer looking for someone like you.

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