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Retail tries to lift image as employer, and pay is key

Maria Halkias
The Dallas Morning News

Dallas — Retailers are raising their minimum wages as the industry tries to elevate its status as an employer in the eyes of all kinds of job seekers.

Last week, for instance, Plano-based At Home became the latest chain to increase its minimum wage since Wal-Mart said last month that it will give 500,000 people a raise in April.

At Home, formerly known as Garden Ridge, said it will increase part-time wages to $9 an hour and full-time to at least $10 an hour beginning in May. TJX, which operates the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls discount chains, raised its minimum wage the week after Wal-Mart made its announcement.

The Gap started the recent wave of higher entry-level wages by raising its rates last year.

The National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest trade group, opposes a federal increase in the minimum wage, seeing it more as a store-by-store, company-by-company decision.

Wal-Mart made a business decision that was right for it, said Matt Shay, the federation’s CEO. “We need the best employees who are giving back to the customer. Otherwise we won’t be successful.”

The National Retail Federation has another campaign in place: It’s trying to combat industry stereotypes, working with colleges to promote programs for retail careers, raising funds for scholarships and trying to change the views of parents. The federation is pushing a message that’s focused beyond entry-level store jobs. Shay prefers to talk about retail as an industry that offer good jobs in all kinds of fields.

“Views about our industry can be outdated,” Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, said in an interview. “People think we’re just about low-paid sales jobs. There are IT jobs, complicated logistics, sourcing and merchandising. These are fabulous long-term career jobs.”

This year, Tindell is wearing a second hat as the chairman of the National Retail Federation.

“I heard people say they’ve sent their kid to Wharton and they don’t want them to go work for a retailer,” he said. “At The Container Store, just in IT alone, we have several six-figure jobs.”

The federation has set up a job board that has more than 5,000 full-time job postings, Shay said.

The Container Store recently made Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to work for list for the 16th time. But where’s the rest of the industry? There are 10 other retail companies on the Fortune list, but they tend to be the same companies each year:, Nordstrom, REI, L.L. Bean, Build-A-Bear, QuikTrip and a few grocery store chains.

Shay said the industry has lots of leading-edge companies, from spa chain Bluemercury, which was just acquired by Macy’s, to

“As an industry we have more digital jobs than Silicon Valley and more finance positions than Wall Street,” Shay said. “It’s an incredible time to be part of our industry.”

Shay and Tindell spoke at a meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers in Dallas. The largest retail federation and the largest shopping center trade organization call themselves the hearts and lungs of shopping.

The announcement from At Home means about 1,800 of its 2,100 employees are getting raises. The home decor superstore has 83 stores and plans to grow to 200 by the end of the decade.

“Attracting and retaining great team members has and continues to be a key priority for us,” CEO Lee Bird said. “We recognize that our success as a company to date and going forward is strongly tied to our talented team and their ability to deliver a great customer experience within our stores.”

Bird, who was named CEO in December 2012, has been making changes in employee benefits and the corporate culture that included not being open on Thanksgiving last year. Bird said it’s the company’s mission to become an employer of choice.