Management is about getting things done through people, so all management training programs can teach all managers how to do that. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

But ask leaders and managers in store support and home office roles about what they’re dealing with in the complex world of retail management, and that conventional wisdom doesn’t seem so wise after all.

In fact, that’s exactly what we did. We surveyed VPs, directors, buyers, DC managers, AP supervisors, tax and audit managers, and many other retail support leaders in a range of formats, from specialty and luxury to off-price, discount and outlet, to find out what their challenges are and how they handle the range of interpersonal situations they face on a daily basis.

One thing quickly became apparent: all management is not alike.

While there are some core ideas and concepts that apply to management across the board regardless of industry, the pace, dynamics, customer influence and competitive market forces are shaping retail management in different ways than general management training is able to address.

Not only that, the more closely you look at the responsibilities retail support leaders face, the more unique you realize these functions are. Their roles and challenges are not only different from those of the typical leader, they’re different from those of the typical store manager as well.

The findings have clear implications for how to best approach retail leadership and management development, both in the stores and in the DCs and home office.

What Differentiates Retail Support Leadership from Store Management

Six major themes emerged from our data, all of them pointing to significant differences that really matter when it comes to developing support managers and leaders to succeed in today’s retail environment.

At a high level, we found that support leaders:

  1. Perform triple roles of Do, Manage and Influence
  2. Are more likely to have developed technical skills than interpersonal skills
  3. Have specialized roles and responsibilities that create silos
  4. Lead associates who often work independently
  5. Have broader exposure to a wider range of people and teams
  6. Are successful as much for their leadership presence as their competence

Store Support Leaders Need Training Designed For Their Realities

If you’re responsible for retail training and development, you’re likely investing a lot of time, energy and money into the development of your field organization, and you probably wouldn’t even consider implementing training that wasn’t created specifically for retail and designed for those roles. It’s time to apply that same logic to the critical cadre of field support, DC and home office managers and leaders.

Considering the key role these leaders play in the overall profitability and competitive footing of the business, we can’t ignore their development. But putting them through generic leadership development training or even retail store leadership training won’t cut it.

Download the full report, National Retail Research on Support Leadership, which explores each of the six themes in greater detail and makes recommendations for effective support leadership development strategies and approaches.

What do you think are the biggest differences when it comes to the challenges and responsibilities of store support managers, store managers and general business managers?

Share in the comments, or tweet us @mohrretail.


About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.