For years, HR managers have struggled to find their future salespeople and managers. With this tension in the retail professions, fashion companies are embracing this challenge. The same applies to the French SMCP Group: the parent company of the prêt-à-porter brands Sandro, Maje, Claudie Pierlot and Fursac is starting its own training path and wants to “breathe magic back into the profession of sales consultant”.

    Targeting the affordable luxury segment, the SMCP Group’s brands’ stores are located around the world, from Hong Kong to Paris and Shanghai to New York. This sales network includes over 1,600 sales outlets and more than 6,000 employees. But like many other companies in the clothing industry, the French group also has problems with the staff.

    “We have a real problem attracting people who want to pursue a career in retail,” explains Christelle Sanchez, Diversity and Inclusion Director at SMCP. This problem related to the lack of applications has prompted the clothing group to think more about the topic.

    “Picking up people who might not dare to come to us”

    At a hackathon conducted with 31 volunteers at the end of November 2021, the two winning teams proposed an answer to the question “How can we revitalize professions in retail in view of the challenges facing corporate social responsibility?” to set up SMCP.

    As Christelle Sanchez explains, the idea was “to pick up people who may not dare to come to us, who cannot find work because of a mishap in their career path or because they simply do not fit into the classic school framework”. This concept resulted in the “SMCP Retail Lab”, the first training class of which will begin at the end of January 2023.

    In order to build up this training path, the twelve members of the project team – consisting of experts from various units of the group and the participants of the hackathon – have developed a pilot project that focuses on the profession of sales consultant and supplements it with the skills of tomorrow.

    ## “We want to enhance this profession”

    “We want to enhance this profession,” comments Christelle Sanchez. “Most people think this job is easy. But it’s a very complex job because you deal with people you don’t know every day. You have to be able to communicate well, grasp and understand the personality of the clientele, for example suggesting silhouettes to them. We will need more and more skills that are not yet offered in the courses related to omnichannel, knowledge of new consumption patterns and everything that has to do with corporate social responsibility in general.”

    The training will be dual organized in Paris and will provide students with a recognized certification thanks to the integration of partnerships with Ema Sup Paris, a school specialized in luxury and beauty professions, and the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM). The 480 hours of lessons are spread over a year and mostly take place at Ema Sup’s premises on rue de Charonne in the 11th arrondissement. The Company Days will take place within the Group’s brands.

    The 24 first-class trainees will complete omnichannel sales consulting training, the content of which has been tailored to the needs of SMCP. It is based on a course proposed by the specialized training center and is enriched by seminars at the Institut Français de la Mode, designed to provide knowledge of fashion culture, the product and new consumer habits, with a focus on CSR challenges. In addition, there is content created by SMCP, which is moderated by internal employees of the group on visual merchandising, clientelling or other topics.

    ## Playful workshops instead of the classic application process

    So the company, which is new as a certifying training center, started from scratch to build the project. In particular, the work done by the dozen people consisted in creating an innovative recruitment path, quite different from those usually used by the group.

    “We tried to set up a recruitment mechanism that was supposed to be disruptive.”

    Romain Chazette, Talent Acquisition Manager for the SMCP Group.

    Romain Chazette, Talent Acquisition Manager for the SMCP Group, says: “It was clear to us that we would not offer a classic application process, as we wanted to address a different target group. So we tried to set up a recruitment mechanism that should be disruptive. Wanting to try new channels for acquiring potential candidates, we ended up using non-professional social networks like Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok, Facebook or Spotify. We have set up sponsorship campaigns to encourage the launch of this SMCP experiment and training.”

    Following this campaign, the recruitment of candidates was carried out as follows: the invitation of interested parties to webinars presenting the content of the training program, followed by a selection event that will take place on January 6, 2023 at the Paris showroom of the Maje brand . The program for this day includes five playful workshops.

    ## “We don’t ask for a CV”

    But where the team wants to change something above all is when evaluating the candidates. The event around the selection should be “completely inclusive”, explains Christelle Sanchez: “We do not ask for a CV or special experiences. We will only evaluate the motivation and the fashion ideas of the candidates. For this we want to create friendliness, trust and fun, so that all participants have the opportunity to show their personalities, what makes them different from other people. We want it to be something really different. The only selection rule is that you must be over 18 years old. After that we are really open to all personalities. This is part of our CSR challenges. We want to pick up all people who would like to work for us, regardless of their career and the life they might have had before.”

    After this first year, SMCP does not close the door to the creation of further learning pathways and speaks in particular of internal training modules inspired by this training. “We want to develop our best talents and make them want to stay with us,” says Sanchez, who also addresses the question of the region and internationality. So SMCP Retail Lab is destined to evolve.

    This article was published on Translation and editing: Barbara Russ