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Walmart U.S. president Bill Simon touts benefits of retail jobs

Bill Simon is the president and chief executive of Walmart U.S. 

Bill Simon is the president and chief executive of Walmart U.S. 

Retail jobs often get a bum rap for their crummy pay, meager benefits and harsh hours. Announce that an engineering firm is coming to town, and everyone cheers. Say that a retailer is opening a store, and critics grumble that such jobs don't pay well.

No one hears this more than Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. His 3,900 stores employ 1.3 million workers, many of whom earn minimum wage or close to it.

At a retail conference in New York last week, Simon said he's tired of hearing people put down retail jobs. Sure, the industry has a lot of entry-level jobs, but "that's nothing to be ashamed of," he said. "Everyone has a first job."

Ask around and most people have worked a retail gig at some point in their lives, whether stocking shelves at a supermarket or filling orders at a coffee shop. For Simon, it was washing dishes at a restaurant. Even President Barack Obama scooped ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins.

My first job was at an Ardan catalog store, working in the housewares department. I made $3.35 an hour and loved it. At 16, I learned that making money was just part of it. It was also about being part of a team, meeting new people and flirting with the cute guy who worked in toys.

Not once did I consider it a bad job.

As a top executive for the world's largest retailer, Simon made a strong argument for retail jobs, which account for one in four U.S. jobs. They put students through college, support teachers in the summer and, starting Memorial Day, will help any veteran transitioning from military service to civilian life. In a nutshell, don't knock it until you try it.

Entry-level positions often lead to more lucrative ones. Simon said Walmart promotes about 170,000 people each year to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay. About 75 percent of its store management started as hourly associates and now earn an average of $50,000 to $170,000 a year. Last year, its highest-paid store manager made $250,000.

Obviously, not everyone makes close to that, but the lesson is clear: Work hard and the potential is there at Walmart — or any retailer, for that matter. You never know when sweeping floors or folding sweaters can lead to a rewarding career.

For hockey fans happy to see the Tampa Bay Lightning back on the ice, here's another reason to cheer: Metropolitan Ministries is selling Hope's Frozen Treats during the games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum to help children in need. The sale of each $5 fruit bar provides a meal to one of the area's 8,400 homeless children.

The bars, which come in strawberry, Mexican chocolate almond, Key Lime Pie and other flavors, are a product of Metropolitan's Inside the Box Cafe & Catering. The cafe, which has a location at 505 N Tampa St. in downtown Tampa, has provided funding for more than 75,000 meals.

Want to sell your pencil skirt or skin cream at Macy's? It's not totally out of reach. Macy's fashion program for minority- and women-owned businesses is recruiting members for its next class in May. The Workshop at Macy's five-day course in New York City works with entrepreneurs to strengthen their companies and find potential new vendors for its stores.

Last year, a clothing line out of Tampa, Black & Denim Apparel Co., was among 17 chosen nationwide. Co-owner Roberto Torres said the company doesn't know yet whether Macy's will pick up its line, but just being part of the workshop gave it a better understanding of its business and where it's headed. Among fashion designers, it was huge.

The workshop began in 2011 and drew 1,000 applicants. To apply for the class of 2013, go to macysinc.com/workshop. The deadline is Feb. 3.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Walmart U.S. president Bill Simon touts benefits of retail jobs 01/21/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 7:41pm]
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