Retail Helped Me Become a More Effective Manager

by Izaah Knox   •  


Izaah Knox is a PhD student at Iowa State University, where he studies educational leadership and policy. He is a husband and parent of two children: a four year old daughter and a 14 year old son. In 2016 he was recognized in Des Moines’ Business Record Forty Under 40.

Over the past two years as a Talent Acquisition Program Development Consultant at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Izaah created an innovative, unique and successful yearlong internship for high school students at one of the largest employers in the Des Moines metropolitan area for students who attend the most poverty stricken high school in Iowa.

He did this while also serving as the Associate Executive Director for Urban Dreams, a nonprofit with a vision of building bridges of opportunity and equal access. Urban Dreams has been operating for 31 years in one of the most depressed communities in Iowa, the same community where Izaah lives with his family. Izaah is slated to become the Executive Director of Urban Dreams in 2017.

Where did you work in the retail industry? Multiple retailers – all at my local mall.

Why did you start working in retail? I had a few friends who were working retail. Not only did they like the hours and the paycheck, they always had nice, new, brand name clothes. I wanted all those things, too. Once I got hired,  I also enjoyed the flexible hours and the atmosphere.  

How did your retail jobs impact your life? My jobs were always flexible. I played football and ran track in high school when I worked retail. My work and school schedule never conflicted, mostly because I had a great manager.

What skills did you learn during your retail experience? Conversational and public speaking, customer service, the customer experience and the benefits of going above and beyond expectations.

What has been the impact of retail experience on your career? First and foremost, selling on the floor forced me to overcome any anxiety of approaching strangers and striking up a conversation. Moreover, it spurred my desire to work hard to earn a commission. Retail also gave me my deep understanding of how beneficial good customer service is to the bottom line, both personally and for the company.

When did you realize the skills you were gaining were going to be useful to you long term? Not until many years after, actually, not until I did this interview. Nevertheless, my work in retail and my managers there (and some others) shaped my keen eye for good customer service and helped me be a more effective manager.

How have you used these skills in your current career? I train my staff to provide excellent customer service and give the customer the best experience possible. I coach my staff on this regularly. Retail is sales, Urban Dreams is a nonprofit, however we sell a service and our clients are our customers. Therefore, it is imperative for us to give our customers the best possible experience.

Do you have any advice for those working in retail now or who are considering it? If you work hard, stay focused on customer service, read cues, analyze data, and are patient, you will succeed.

Izaah Knox Izaah Knox is a PhD student at Iowa State University, where he studies educational leadership and policy. Izaah is slated to become the Executive Director of the nonprofit Urban Dreams in 2017.

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