March 3, 2023
Leaving a career spanning over two decades made me feel like I would throw up. Sorry, that’s the only way I can describe it. In the months leading up to submitting my resignation, I was totally out of my mind. I was so stressed out about quitting. I was running on pure anxiety.
I’d been in my building for nine years. I’d built relationships company-wide. Everyone knew my name and equated it to quality work. I respected my leaders. I loved the people on my team. But for me, it was time. I knew I had to go.
Building a side hustle while you’re working full-time isn’t easy. I woke up early and stayed up late to write and learn about the creator economy. I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew this was my next career. It had to be. Failing was not an option, so I pushed with every cell in my body.
Why, though? Why not continue my career in retail and become a District Manager? I struggled with that question for years.
I was never sure I wanted that job. I was qualified, but I had doubts. Being a District Manager is the same as being a Store Manager.
Hear me out.
All the pieces are the same. You’re no longer writing schedules; you’re approving them (same/same). You’re no longer interviewing associates; you’re interviewing managers (also same/same). You attend more meetings, have more conference calls, and travel more. That’s about it. It’s the same job on a larger scale.
However, I loved leading people; that alone could have been enough to keep me there. I might still be working in retail today if these things had been more transparent and accessible.
I thrive on information. Give it to me. DM calls, memos, anything I could get my hands on. I had enough information to do my job, but I craved more. I wanted the bigger picture. I wanted a global strategy.
Visits with my DM were infrequent. Yes, she’d visit my store once a month, but only sometimes when I was there. I felt connected and motivated when I could spend time with her and dig into company details. The casual conversation led to a feeling of a greater sense of purpose. I could see how I fit into the district and the company. I understood my role and talents better. However, these conversations didn’t happen often enough.
She was overworked and had newer leaders she needed to spend time with, so I saw her infrequently. She knew I could handle my role, but talented leaders need engagement too.
As a tenured leader of a high-volume store, I had a lot to say. I gave feedback every week. It often wasn’t addressed. I sent the requested information and never heard back. Did they think our ideas were dumb? Did they not have the staffing or the money? We’d never know.
Occasionally I could catch my Regional Manager on a visit and pry. She was great. She was enthusiastic and transparent, telling me why the company couldn’t implement specific ideas. I’d be satisfied for three weeks or so. After that, I’d crave more information and feedback.
Where was my career going, anyway? I ran the highest volume/highest profile store in the area. What was next for me?
A DM career path wasn’t clear. In early 2020, my Regional Manager included me in a DM-training program, but it technically wasn’t a career path to become a DM.
Yes, exactly. The company’s leaders equated it to being an “influencer” in the district, whatever that meant. But we attended DM meetings and conference calls. We oversaw the district when our DM was away – sometimes. Sometimes they chose other Store Managers to do it.
The whole thing was mystifying.
So, I’m in this program that’s like DM training, but it’s not. I oversee the district when my DM is out but only sometimes. People call me regularly to ask me questions, which I gladly answer. I make special trips to evaluate, audit, and help other stores, but I’m definitely not a DM in training.
Right, okay. My expertise was being exploited. Every day more work was handed down without extra compensation.
2020 was wild. Our store closed for two months, most of the company was furloughed, and we were doing backflips trying to stay OSHA compliant. Every day there was a new change. Eight months after I was included in the “this is not a DM training group” group, my boss quit, and they gave the DM role to someone else.
Much to my surprise, I was relieved. I would’ve taken it if they’d given it to me… and I was never sure I wanted it.
A solid career path and a straightforward DM training program would’ve kept me interested and invested. Instead, I was merely content and overwhelmingly bored.
I was also under-compensated.
I would’ve stayed if I’d been paid more – a lot more. My salary didn’t match my skill set. When I was hired, maybe, but my raises didn’t keep up.
A 3% raise on top of a mediocre salary every year – for nine years – doesn’t add up to much.
The minimum raise kept inching up. Bonus money became almost impossible to attain. It was a grueling amount of work for the paychecks I received.
“We should quit and get two part-time jobs,” a fellow Store Manager joked one day. I almost considered it.
My store was a twenty-five-mile drive from my house. I drive fifty miles a day, spend ten hours a week on the freeway, run a high-volume, dynamic business, and take on extra projects, but I cannot afford much because my salary sucks.
It didn’t make sense anymore.
Now I use my retail expertise to run my own freelance business.
Leaving my retail career gutted me. Leading a team was an absolute honor. However, I had nothing left to give because there wasn’t anything filling my cup anymore.
I miss working in retail every day. Being a solo entrepreneur doesn’t come close to the rush of running a sales floor when everything is clicking. But now, I use my voice in a new way and try to reach a larger audience.
If I’d had access to information, a defined career path, and a salary that matched my skill set, I may have stayed in the retail business. But everything in life leads to a new chapter. We have to be brave enough to turn the page.
Zipline is how best-in-class retailers bring brand strategies to life in stores. A unified platform for operational excellence, Zipline brings together frontline communications, task management, resources, insights, and more—so everyone feels connected to the brand and inspired by their work. Today, nearly 80 brands like Rite Aid and Sephora depend on Zipline to align and empower their store teams worldwide. Reach out to learn how Zipline can help you outsmart your competition today.
Kit Campoy is a former retail leader turned freelance writer based in Southern California. She covers Retail, Leadership, Web3, and more. Join the waitlist for her upcoming book, Leadership Field Guide, and connect with Kit on LinkedIn.
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