my experience as a retail supervisor

Are you considering becoming a retail supervisor but want to learn more about the profession? Check out this first-hand account from an experienced retail supervisor to see if it's the right career path for you!

I graduated from college with a degree in writing. Nothing practical like journalism or technical writing. I studied fiction writing with the goal of being a published author. I had no intention of being a teacher or doing anything else but write the next great novel that changes everything.

When I finished school, I did what every person who graduated with an artsy degree and no plans did: I got a coffee shop job. In my mind, that first coffee shop job was just a way to pay rent and eat while I worked on my verbal art. It wasn’t going to be more than a year or so until I had written and published something, the young me assumed, so I didn’t stress too much about working there very long. Besides, I love coffee and the coffee there was free while you were on shift. Perks!

With free coffee fueling me, I worked part time shifts that could begin as early as 3AM. After a year, I was still making coffee and started to realize that this job was going to more than a temporary thing. I needed to get serious because my rent was going up, groceries weren’t cheap, and student loan payments started piling up. There wasn’t room in my life at that point for work and art and, since I enjoyed having a place to live, I started working at this shop full time. Eventually, I was able to work my way up to shift supervisor, which came with more hours, more stress, and two extra dollars per hour. Here’s what I learned being a supervisor for three years.

How to be a leader. Sometimes knowing how to lead is a natural instinct. People listen to you and respect you immediately. That wasn’t the case for me. I was quiet, did my job, and if someone did something incorrectly, I would just redo it for them instead of teaching them the right process. I got promoted to shift supervisor because I was reliable, I always picked up extra hours and shifts, and I knew what I was doing. At first, it was a struggle. The paperwork was easy. Doing weekly order sheets was time consuming, but easy. Getting people to show up to my shift on time and have the shift run smoothly was the tough part. I had to learn how to lead or I would fail. Leading isn’t necessarily giving orders and being bossy. It’s often more about leading by example. I was forced to learn to speak up, to correct mistakes, and to be more patient. Without the experience as a supervisor, I don’t think I’d have had the confidence to pursue other careers paths.

Certification Matters. I never would have thought I’d have to take an exam and pass it to prove that I could effectively run a shift. But, in the retail industry, especially the food and beverage sector like the coffee shop I worked at, having documented ServSafe certification was necessary. I might’ve known how to properly clean dishes in a commercial kitchen sink and I could guesstimate the proper temperature to store dairy products in the counter line, but without documentation, it was pretty worthless. And, as a supervisor, I couldn’t guesstimate things anymore. I had to know with absolute certainty the right temperature of everything and make sure my employees verified that info on a regular basis. Although health inspections were never, for the most part, random, you wanted to make sure everything was as close to perfect as possible, just in case.

There will always be at least ONE unhappy customer. After a while on the job as a shift supervisor, I finally got comfortable with myself, my work, and my team. I learned how to lead, I was certified. Things were great. But in retail, especially in a coffee shop where people take their caffeine orders very seriously, there’s always a customer who thinks you’ve ruined their day. As a shift supervisor, one of your more frustrating duties is being the go-to person when the general manager isn’t available. You have to resolve complaints and issues without guidance from upper management and, often, a coupon for a free drink won’t cut it. That’s where you learn how to stay calm when all you want to do is yell back at the unhappy person. You learn to negotiate and to problem-solve. They either leave less miffed or they vow never to come back. But as long as you’ve done your due diligence, you did your job.

As a shift supervisor, the biggest thing I had to learn was that sometimes things aren’t in your control. Training was limited because of need, so besides being shown how to log into applications to process shift paperwork, I was thrown out on the floor with a shiny new name badge and “power” that I didn’t know how to properly wield. I would have benefitted from a detailed Retail Supervisor training program. I look back and think that, if I had been more prepared going into the role, I would have struggled less. However, what I learned from my experience as a retail/shift supervisor made a huge difference in my career trajectory. I can’t say that I would be writing this for you to read right now if I hadn’t gone through what I did. If you’re not sure that becoming a supervisor is where you want to go with your career, it’s still worth giving it a try for the experience, education, and confidence you build while learning the ropes!