On the front line

Candidates are being picky about who they work for, while employers can be demanding without paying more.

Salaries on the front line of retail in stores and out in the field have never matched those senior roles in head office. And they are being held steady by a strong supply of candidates who want the security of working for an established and successful retailer. The recession has left a rich pool of potential staff, and this is impacting pay because candidates are keener to get into a good, stable company, says Diane Wilkinson, divisional manager for retail operations at Fashion & Retail Personnel. She explains: "Retailers don't have to pay more. We have seen more people move and have the same salary or even drop salary to get into a company they really like."

Store managers boast an average salary of just less than £30,000 outside of London and there is a healthy jump to more than £40,000 for an area manager role. However, the next position- retail operations manager - has a smaller increment of about £3,500 extra.

Retailers can be more demanding with increased expectations from the people they employ, despite not necessarily increasing pay. "Because it's candidate-rich, retailers can be picky. For example, area managers are such a key part of the business that they are upping the ante on what they are looking for," says Wilkinson. "They want someone that is very commercial and can drive the bottom line rather than just someone who is overseeing the stores," she says.

Bryony Leleux, head of HR at menswear retailer Moss Bros Group, says finding the best staff for these roles is still a challenge. The retailer is investing in a renewed focus on training to better grow talent from within because the needs of its business means it has to largely look outside. "Particularly at store manager level there is still only the same pool of the best people available and people are holding on hard to their best people, so finding good store managers is as hard as ever, if not more so," she says.

Hence, the average salary for a fashion store manager in our survey is slightly higher than the £21,000 to £28,000 range Skillsmart Retail says is the average for a manager role in retail in general.

Jessica Taylor, people director at lifestyle retailer White Stuff, agrees: "There are more candidates out there but we still want to recruit the best people," she says. The retailer is also focusing heavily on progressing staff through its business and it's a policy that is paying off with nearly half (46%) of its vacancies in the retail operations division filled internally so far this year. This includes 38% of deputy managers and 52% of store managers. "That's testament to the fact we do a lot of internal moves and there is a definite path for growth," she says.

Independent retailers, who don't have the advantage of a well-known name, find recruiting retail operation roles can be a harder challenge - especially lower down the pecking order. Deryane Tadd, owner of womenswear indie The Dressing Room in St Albans, says at manager level recruiting can be tough: "It's quite difficult because you are looking for people that are building a career in retail and retail still carries a stigma as a career choice." She finds it's important to employ someone who is a real self-starter for an indie more so than for a multiple retailer, because a smaller team requires people that will make a difference.

But for multiples, they are effectively mini businesses in their own right, and those that thrive in-store can go all the way to the top through the retail operations route.