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Tips for young professionals to make an impact from day one

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In retail, making a difference doesn’t necessarily start at the top. Success today is driven by retail teams in stores and in the office that are collaboratively elevating shopping experiences to the highest level. 

Four young professionals on stage at the NRF Foundation Student Program were proof of just that. Their advice to attendees wasn’t something that can be learned in the classroom – but wisdom they can carry throughout their professional lives. 

Take advantage of development opportunities. Beginning as a footwear intern with HSN in 2009, Zuri Woodardshines today as an associate product merchant. But she was quick to attribute her successful oversight of high profile merchandise brand launches such as Coca-Cola to learning the ropes through the company’s development program. “It enabled me to hit the ground running, giving me the ability to identify who has the answer to help me do my job better,” Woodard said.

Persistence pays off. Alyssa Christian, now a product manager for the Juicy Couture brand at Kohl’s Department Stores, made the most of her internship. She met individually with not only her team members, but everyone who was involved in operations at her store. Her eagerness to learn how everything worked cross-functionally enabled Christian to exceed the expectations of her supervisors. The result: a full-time job offer. “My biggest piece of advice is to ask questions to everyone,” Christian said. After years of success with the Dana Buchman and Rock&Republic brands, Christian was recently moved to lead the misses and girls’ apparel launch for Juicy Couture. 


Young retail professionals Vanessa Wesnak (left), Zuri Woodard, Alyssa Christian and Bryant Crews with Jerry O’Brien, Kohl’s Center for Retailing Excellence, University of Wisconsin-Madison.[/caption]

Embrace your creative and analytical side. Vanessa Wesnak is an associate manager of social media marketing and communities at Urban Outfitters. The role was created as an offshoot of Marketing – because the company embraced the opportunities these platforms created to showcase products in a way that mattered to their customers. Wesnak thinks analytically by meeting marketing deadlines, and creatively crafts messages that bring personality to merchandise. Gratification comes from writing social media copy for a major lifestyle brand and seeing how this engagement can drive sales for a product they are promoting any given day, she said.

Think big – but also think locally. Bryant Crews has been promoted multiple times on his journey to his current role as store manager for DICK’s Sporting Goods near Tampa, FL. His progression professionally can be attributed to recognizing seasonal shopping trends in his community and passing this knowledge on to his bosses. Realizing that the professional baseball season starts sooner in Florida for spring training, Crews advised that his store should have merchandise available and relevant to shoppers at his store. And his supervisors listened.

Young professionals are playing an integral role in retail, impacting important business decisions – from the sales floor and all the way up to the corporate level.