Photo: Jon M. Fletcher
A Day in the Working Life
» $63.97 billion
» 7.6% of Florida’s GDP
» GDP rank:No. 4
» Employment: 1.22 million
» 11.2% of total employment
» Employment rank:No. 1
Some 45% of all retail employees in Florida work in general merchandise stores, clothing stores and food and beverage stores. More than 142,000 Floridians work for auto dealers or auto parts stores.
» Allocation Analyst, Stein Mart
Rinsha Prophete knows a lot about consumer sentiment and weather patterns in different parts of the country from analyzing data at Stein Mart headquarters in Jacksonville.
Prophete, a 2014 graduate of Florida State University, is an allocation analyst for the department store chain, meaning she helps to ensure the proper amount and assortment of merchandise is available in each of the company’s nearly 280 locations nationwide. When a cold snap hits California, for example, she and her co-workers ensure that Stein Mart’s Cupertino store has enough sweaters and jackets on hand.
Her job also gives her unique insight into how people react to certain trends. For New Year’s Eve, she could tell that many people had resolved to get healthier based on their clothing purchases — gym apparel was hard to keep in stock. “I see it from a high level,” she says. “Why people buy certain things interests me.”
Growing up in St. Petersburg, Prophete enjoyed shopping, designing clothes and watching “Project Runway.” She doublemajored in retail merchandising and product development and business management at FSU.
In 2014, a summer internship turned into a full-time job at Stein Mart — Florida’s 51st largest public company with annual sales of $1.3 billion. Prophete is now one of more than 11,000 Stein Mart employees in the U.S.
She says she chose a career in retail because of the industry’s overall growth potential and opportunities for rapid advancement. “The retail industry is always going to be needed,” she says. “Eventually, I’d love to move up the company ladder.”
» Assistant Store Manager, Walgreens
Izabella Szura, a recent graduate of the University of Florida, helps manage a Walgreens store with 30 employees in Gainesville.
Background: Before joining Walgreens full time last summer, Szura held a number of part-time sales jobs at clothing chains and bookstores. She says she didn’t necessarily plan to work in retail after college, “but it just worked out that way. It pays a lot better than people think. I’m making about $30,000, and I’m due for a raise,” she says. “The opportunities for growth are immense. My store manager makes six figures, and I know that in five years, I can get to that level.”
Parental reaction: Like many college graduates who choose a career in retail, Szura says she had to defend her decision to her parents. “My dad always wanted me to go into finance and was kind of upset at first. I’m good at math, and I like numbers, but I can’t picture myself sitting and working in an office all day. Once I explained to him that I can work my way up within the company and how much money I can possibly make, he understood.”
Typical day: Szura typically works one of two eight-hour shifts — from 8 a. m. to 4 p.m. or from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Because her store is open 24 hours, she also works the occasional overnight shift. The first thing she does is inspect the store and make notes on what’s needed. “I look at every detail and see what needs to be fixed. It could be as simple as a missing price tag or a missing item where a price tag is. Throughout the day, I also meet with different vendors who come in, and we decide what we need more or less of,” she says. “I don’t like to sit in the office, so I’m usually running around the floor. If I see a customer, I’ll offer assistance.”
Biggest challenge: As someone who until recently was a part-time sales clerk, Szura finds it odd being on the other side of the employee-manager relationship. “The hardest part is training new employees. We’re a college town, so we have a lot of turnover,” she says. “I’m still learning about leadership and how to motivate employees.”
Executive Director, Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research
Steven Kirn, executive director of the Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida, says the No. 1 factor discouraging college graduates from pursuing a career in retail is their parents.
“It’s still not seen as a real job by a lot of people,” Kirn says.
Retail is Florida’s single-largest sector for employment, with more than 1.2 million jobs. But a low wage floor relative to other sectors puts retail’s contribution to the overall economy at No. 4, behind real estate, government and health care. The average annual wage for retail workers in Florida is $28,471.
Kirn says retail’s reputation for lowwage entry-level jobs obscures the fact that the sector offers opportunities to get into management and progress quickly. “You can move up if you demonstrate that you’re pretty good at it — and we’re talking months, not years,” he says.
Meanwhile, high turnover and public scrutiny over low wages are causing some chains to reconsider their pay policies for entry-level workers. Gap began paying a $10-minimum wage last year, and Walmart has pledged to follow suit this year.
Mike and Sue Shapiro
Co-owners, Shapiro’s Gallery of Contemporary American Crafts
Move in the Right Direction
In 2009, Mike and Sue Shapiro, the husband-and-wife owners of Shapiro’s Gallery in St. Petersburg, were staring at the abyss. Sales at their jewelry and crafts store had plunged 50%, and they could no longer afford to stay in a downtown retail complex then known as BayWalk.
Built in 2000, BayWalk had been popular, but the recession and fallout from the center’s foreclosure had exacerbated a decline in foot traffic.
A few blocks away, Mike Shapiro saw a ray of hope in an empty store along Beach Drive near the water. Confident that Beach Drive would emerge from the recession in good shape, he worked out a deal with the landlord to move in at favorable terms.
By year’s end, the Shapiros had closed their store at BayWalk and reopened on Beach Drive, located between a restaurant with outdoor seating and a gelato shop.
“From the moment we opened our doors, we were making money again,” he says. “2010 was a strong year, and each year since then has been better than the one before.”
The overall retail market in Florida began to bounce back from the recession in 2010. By late 2011, Florida retail sales were growing at a faster rate than the national average. A major source of growth for retailers has been tourism: Since 2010, the amount of money that tourists and other travelers spend annually in Florida has increased 31% to $85.5 billion, according to Visit Florida.
The Shapiros say tourists now come into their store year-round rather than just during the traditional high tourist season between January and April.
In 2014, they opened a store in south Tampa. Meanwhile, their two children, Alena and Matt, have joined the business. Alena handles the website and social media advertising; Matt helps with various business functions, including representing the store in trade associations. The Shapiros also have six non-family employees.
Early in the morning after a long weekend in January, Mike Shapiro caught up on paperwork at the St. Petersburg store before stepping out for a dentist appointment. He recalls being asked at the dentist’s office, “How was your weekend?” and thinking, “What weekend?”
“It’s retail,” he says. “When most people are off work, we’re busiest.”
Ann Langston, director of the retail, merchandising and product development center at Florida State University, says the industry’s reputation for long hours scares away some grads, but companies are introducing work-life balance policies to attract and retain young talent. “Kudos to the retail industry,” she says. “They recognize that millennials are a strong part of their work force, and they’re adjusting their culture.”
$30.6 billion — Sales at Lakeland-based Publix in 2014, making it the No. 1 retailer in Florida and the 13th-largest retailer in the U.S. Jacksonville-based Bi-Lo Holdings, which includes Winn- Dixie grocery stores, garnered a No. 44 national ranking, with $10.6 billion in annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation.