When will you get a real career?
When will you stop working nights and weekends?
When do you plan to use your college degree?
Those who work in retail are familiar with these questions. For most, it makes them feel like the career they love was all just an accident. Ron Thurston knows that feeling very well.
But now Ron is working to change the narrative. He wrote Retail Pride as a guide for every retail employee, manager, and multi-store leader looking to accelerate their potential and grow their career. Ron wants to help readers discover a sense of belonging in the words of someone who has been a champion for the industry and shares their journey. I recently caught up with Ron to learn what inspired him to write the book and his favorite idea he shares with readers.
What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?
Three things happened in my life in the summer of 2019 that made me decide to write this book:
First, on the weekend of my 55th birthday, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer at the end of May. While the severity of the tumor was relatively low, coming face-to-face with my legacy inspired me into action. I didn’t just think about doing more things or checking off a list; I wanted to go out and inspire others for generations to come about an industry that impacts every aspect of our life in every city in the world. I knew a book was the best way to start that.
Three weeks later, the day before my cancer surgery, I was nominated to serve on the board of directors for Goodwill NY/NJ. As a retail leader for nearly three decades, my entire identity was wrapped up in the jobs I had, the brands I worked for, and the people I led. For the first time, I recognized that I had developed the skills necessary to impact the entire industry, not just my job. I knew that a message about retail pride could travel across all retail sectors, from the ultimate European luxury brands to donated good stores where the average ticket is $5. We all have similar challenges and we all do similar work, it’s just a different product.
Finally, I went on a men’s group weekend retreat with the organization EVRYMAN. There I found a voice that I didn’t know I had, and at that exact moment, I recognized that my legacy was going to be to become lifting my voice for the millions of people who work in retail, most often accidentally, usually self-taught, and using it to celebrate them.
After that weekend in August, the first thing I did was research the best way to get a book out into the world. I had a call with the Scribe team before Labor Day weekend, and in October 2019, I attended their three-day Guided Author weekend where I met some of the most interesting people I know. A year later, here we are, with a book that I’m very proud of.
What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?
My favorite actionable idea is a confident mind shift about your retail career from accidental to intentional. Not only that, but you are taking pride in your retail career. Let me explain.
Rarely do people say, “If things are going well when I graduate, I’d like to land a job at the mall.” That’s not how a retail career starts. Usually, it begins with a part-time job as a sales associate.
Maybe you took your first retail job for an employee discount, or as a temporary position while something completely unrelated in college, or to earn some extra cash to make ends meet. As you got more experience, when those around you weren’t sure what to do, you stepped in and helped them figure it out. Then a management position opened up, and you found yourself thrust into a leadership role with little or no preparation. With more time, you found yourself responsible for other needs, filling bigger and bigger gaps, and serving more people.
Suddenly, you realize that what started as a temporary part-time job has turned into your career. That can be exciting, but also terrifying as you face one big question: “What’s next?”
Though you likely fell into this career by accident, to take it to the next level, you need to be proactive in developing it. And the first thing to do is stop referring to it as accidental, but rather as intentional and be an active participant in your career.
What’s a story of how you’ve applied this lesson in your own life? What has this lesson done for you?
Once I recognized that I had the skills, the motivation, and the ability to succeed as a retail leadership executive, I knew that building relationships and networking would fuel my career. In the last ten years, I have been committed to making my success intentional.
I was an early adopter on LinkedIn and put in a lot of time building my professional network, and in return, becoming a resource for others. I actively connected, messaged, responded, and posted about retail leadership in my unique way.
I discovered that you are better off developing several parallel networks of people willing to help you than you are relying on a single close-knit group. An extensive network expands your access to opportunities, broadens the range of perspectives you welcome into your life, and diminishes the power any one person holds over you.
For many people, the idea of “networking” instills a feeling of panic. Not everyone enjoys the prospect of “working a room.” The good news is that anyone, even the most introverted of us, can improve our connection skills with a bit of reframing, practice, patience, and persistence.
Think of it this way: ultimately, networking is relationship building. Your network results from creating intentional relationships with people you encounter every day, a few times a year, or once at an event. And that is a skill that you will take with you, no matter where you go!