Getting Promoted in Your Retail Job – The Quick and Dirty System That Works

3 things you need to know about to get promoted

Ever feel like your boss doesn’t respect how hard you work? Sick of being passed over for promotion because you’re young and always have to prove yourself? Feel like your manager is a douche who only promotes his friends?

I’ve put together this summary of 3 key things you need to know about to get your next promotion and an action plan with tactics and sample scripts to start you off on your Retail Career domination.

How would I know? I started as a shelf stacker and got promoted 7 times in 2.5 years at one of Australia’s largest retailers, the last promotion being to the National Office in a major national role accountable for the planning for an area worth over $100 million dollars a year. I’ve been where you are now and I can share with you how to get promoted in your Retail career.

*Note: For the sake simplicity I will be referring to your boss as “he” not because all bosses are male, just because it makes for less confusing reading.*


Your boss needs to know that you take your career seriously and that you want to progress. A lot of people aren’t looking for a career in Retail and may be simply working for weekend play money while they do school, others don’t want the responsibility and are happy just getting a regular paycheck because their significant other is the main bread winner. Some are just coasting until they find a better, easier menial job. Some might just be bludgers and only want cash for their next wild weekend.

You immediately set yourself apart from the rest by having the conversation with your boss and openly letting it be known that you are here for the long haul and that you take your job seriously and want to progress. Bosses love mentoring promising young people that want to succeed, and Store Managers & Department Managers know that it looks good if people they train/develop move into higher roles (Succession Planning).

Don’t be the guy waiting for the mythical “tap on the shoulder” to get a promotion. It absolutely needs to be clear to your boss that you want to progress your career. Many good workers stay in their current positions not because they aren’t good at their job, but because they have never made it known clearly enough that they wish to move up within the organisation. Remember that your boss has a lot going on with trying to hit budgets and maintain their Department or Store. It’s not up to your boss to find out if you want to be progress your career, it’s 100% on you to drive your own career aspirations by having the conversation with your boss.

Managers know that people with drive and ambition will work hard and do what others won’t to get the job done. If not handled correctly, this can sometimes be dangerous territory, how do you avoid being an overworked slave chasing that elusive carrot on the stick? Results and Relationships


Results matter, figure out what your most important number is, then learn what you can do to move that number.

As an example, when I was Night-Fill lead at my supermarket job, my most important number was Carton rate per hour, aka how many cartons we could put on the shelf per hour. I would roster on specific people on specific nights so I had the right mix in at the right time. I would jump in and help the poorest fillers periodically throughout the night, to show them what the expectation was and how fast you could get those cartons on the shelf. I rewarded the best workers with the most desirable shifts and gave them more senior tasks or put them in charge on my days off.

As a Grocery Manager, my most important numbers were Sales Growth vs last year and labour hours vs sales. To grow sales I focused on in-store availability, reducing out of stocks which resulted in more sales and more customers, as they knew they could always come to our store and the product they wanted would be there. I built additional off-locations (extra product displays) of seasonal or in-demand items in high foot-traffic locations. I called up or emailed local bars and let them know when we had hot deals on 24pk softdrinks or other relevant high value items.

For labour cost vs sales, as well as growing sales and increasing “trolley size” (the amount the average customer spends per visit to the supermarket) which gave us more hours to spend, I would make sure we had the right mix in the fill team for different tasks, utilised people from different departments (such as Checkout attendants to face up when the store was quiet) and always ensured our Inventory counts were right, which meant less backstock coming in off the trucks on the stock loads, which resulted in less re-work.

When supplier Sales Reps came in for their visits I would have them go through all the backstock to find their products and get them on shelf, as well as have them build off-location displays and face up all their products in the store. If you are able to get an hour or more out of all your key Sales Reps, it’s like an extra 15+ hours a week for free!

So… How do you find out your most important number? Your most important number is the one that is most important to your Boss, so ask them!

Then figure out what you can do to make that number move in the right direction. Not sure how to make it move? Ask your boss, or call a more experienced manager from the best performing store in your Region/Area and ask what they are doing differently to drive their results.

Along the journey throughout the year some of the secondary numbers will fluctuate in importance, be flexible with this and make sure you are on top of what number is the key focus at the time. For example the business may be rolling at a new initiative such as Store Loss Focus month, so Loss/Shrinkage will be a big focus at that time; so focus on improving your numbers in that area and make your boss look good!


Relationships are critical to progressing in any career choice, and getting promoted in Retail is no different. Whether it’s Coles, Woolworths, Kmart, Big W, Target or any other supermarket or department store you need to form relationships with influential people and this includes your boss. You need them to buy into your dream and have them on your side and fighting the battles for you in the background. At management level there are always conversations taking place about who has the potential to move up and you need as many people who are at that table to have something positive to say about you, even if they are not your direct line manager.

We can always find commonalities with others if we try hard enough. Be authentic and build a genuine working friendship with all other managers and key influencers. Even just saying “Good Morning” when you walk in the door each day goes a long way to improving good will and positive sentiment towards you. Moving up the career ladder in stores can be a political minefield if not handled correctly, always remember that every person that has something good to say about you is an asset, no matter who they are. This includes your own team.

Above all, obviously the most important person to build a relationship with is your boss. Your boss is the one who ultimately can put you up for promotion and give you more responsibility or a pay rise. Just being liked by your boss alone is not enough. Getting results goes along way to getting your boss to respect you, but to break through and have him like you personally as well is the true secret sauce to getting promoted. So how can you get your boss to like you enough to personally invest his time and energy into you?

Here is one tested and proven tactic for getting your boss on side.

Ask him how to tackle or fix a generic work specific problem (such as what is the quickest way to do xyz), then do it and note the results. Later on, let them know that you followed their advice, got a good result and that you appreciate their guidance and support.

After doing this several times, come to them with a career specific problem, such as you being nervous when instructing older workers to do certain tasks. Ask your boss how they felt when they were earlier on in their careers and if they have any advice on tackling the problem. Once again implement their advice then let them know that you followed their advice, and what the result was.

When you get career specific advice from your boss, after you’ve implemented it be authentic and really let them know that you appreciate them taking the time to help you to get past the issue and helping you to develop into a stronger performer. It won’t be long before he begins to become invested in your success and development and you have now started to create a mentor/protege relationship. Continue seeking their advice on career specific situations and openly tell people (his boss too if possible!) that the advice/guidance you receive from him is the reason you are getting better results and has been crucial for your development.

All of a sudden your success is also his success and he will begin to start fast tracking you and giving you more opportunities to step up and make a name for yourself. You then need to capitalise on these opportunities and reward the faith put in you by actually being a top performer who achieves strong results and always gets the job done.

Action Plan:


Task 1: Have a quick career conversation with your boss to let them know you want a career.

Sample Script:

Hi Boss, I was hoping I could have 5 minutes to have a conversation with you in private about something personal I need to discuss. (This will get them interested/worried and very willing to have a conversation).

Once in private:

I have been thinking quite seriously about my future here over the last 2 weeks (month/year/whatever), and I wanted to let you know that I have decided I want to pursue a career with our business. I see a long term future here and am willing to do what it takes to get there. If there are any opportunities for development or to take on more responsibility within the Department/Store, I just want to let you know I would be very interested. Is that something that works for you?


Task 2: Ask your boss which number is most important to him.

Task 3: Figure out what you can do to move that number.

Sample Script:

Hi Boss, what’s the most important number you need to achieve for your boss to acknowledge you are doing a good job?

What can I do to help move that number in the right direction for you?

How can I track that number in future to see if what I’m doing is impacting it in a positive way?


Task 4: Casually say Good morning to every Department Manager you see on your way into work from today onwards.

Task 5: Say one positive or empathetic comment to every Department Manager and 2IC within the next week.

Sample Scripts:

To Deli Manager: Hi Deli Manager, wow I noticed the Deli Case on my way in today, it looks amazing! Whenever I go to xyz store their deli case never looks as good as yours does.

Dairy Manager: Hi Dairy Manager, I was thinking the other day, it must be really challenging to work with such short shelf life products, you guys do a great job keeping it full while keeping Loss down. What’s your secret?

Service Manager: Hi Service Manager, I don’t think other people realise just how challenging it must be rostering the right amount of people on at the right time like you do, how do you do it so well?

Task 6: Get job specific advice from your boss, do it and report back. Do at least 3 times.

Sample Script:

Hi Boss, In your experience, what is the best way to do xyz?

*Then do it, come back later and report how it worked out for you, thank them for the advice again*

Task 7: Ask for career specific advice, implement it, then report back.

Hi Boss, I’m having trouble with (Career Specific problem or fear such as public speaking or delegating to older team members), when you were in my position how did you tackle the problem?

*Then do it, come back later and report how it worked out for you, thank them for the advice and really let them know how much it helped you*

Task 8: Tell 2 Department Managers (and your manager’s boss if possible!) about how a method or piece of advice you received from your boss helped you to achieve a better outcome or helped you in your career development.


If you’ve got what it takes to complete these 8 simple tasks you are well and truly on the way to progressing your retail career forward, congratz. I only wish I had something like this to reference when I started my own Retail journey!

Any thoughts, questions or feedback on this? Let me know in the comments – aj 

Or email me at with your biggest career challenge or roadblock and I’ll try to help.

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  1. James says

    As a manager at a large supermarket I can tell you that this advice is spot on. Most of this is what I figured out on my own and have been doing and I have moved up pretty quickly. If one of my workers started doing this they would find themselves getting promoted in their jobs too

    • says

      For others reading this, see what James is saying here? If you follow these simple steps you can put yourself on the fast track to getting promoted at your retail job and doing better work, and earning more money. Thanks for your comment James

  2. Sukesh D says

    I dont understand why you say relationships are so important, my belief is it should be by merit of your hard work that makes you progress your retail career and get promoted quickly

    • says

      This is a common belief holding a lot of people back. People they think if they just “Work Harder” they will eventually be recognized and rewarded for their effort. Unfortunately that’s often not how it works. You need to think of connecting and building relationships with people as a part of your job as well. If you can’t build relationships with people, then how will you lead them? If managers don’t see you as a leader (or potential leader) then why would they promote you? If they don’t like you would they want to be your manager? Managers also promote people that they want to manage.

    • says

      The first promotion might not be too much more money, but what about in 3 years when you are a store manager on 100k+? You have to keep progressing forward to get there.

      Plus it’s not always just about the immediate payrise. It’s also about gaining experience and skills that increase your market value and make you more employable in the future.

      Also remember a simple 5k pay rise in your 20’s is worth $1.3mil over the next 40 years.

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