Career Guides

Career Guide for Sales Supervisors

A sales supervisor helps manage salespersons and other personnel in a retail sales situation. The supervisor interviews, hires, and trains sales representatives and helps motivate them to meet sales goals.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career as a sales supervisor.

Sales Supervisor Summary

  • Employment is projected to increase more slowly than the average for all occupations.
  • Competition is expected for jobs; applicants with a college degree or sales experience should have the best opportunities.
  • Long, irregular hours, including evenings and weekends, are common.

Working as a Sales Supervisor

Sales worker supervisors oversee the work of sales and related workers, such as retail salespersons, cashiers, customer service representatives, stock clerks and order fillers, sales engineers, and wholesale sales representatives. Sales worker supervisors are responsible for interviewing, hiring, and training employees. They also may prepare work schedules and assign workers to specific duties. Many of these supervisors hold job titles such as sales manager, department manager, or shift supervisor.

In retail establishments, sales worker supervisors ensure that customers receive satisfactory service and quality goods. They also answer customers’ inquiries, deal with complaints, and sometimes handle purchasing, budgeting, and accounting.

Responsibilities vary with the size and type of establishment. As the size of retail stores grows and the variety of goods and services increases, supervisors tend to specialize in one department or one aspect of merchandising. Sales worker supervisors in large retail establishments are often referred to as department supervisors or managers. They provide day-to-day oversight of individual departments, such as shoes, cosmetics, or housewares in department stores; produce or meat in grocery stores; and car sales in automotive dealerships. Department supervisors establish and implement policies, goals, and procedures for their specific departments; coordinate activities with other department heads; and strive for smooth operations within their departments. They supervise employees whose responsibilities may include pricing and ticketing goods and placing them on display; cleaning and organizing shelves, displays, and inventories in stockrooms; and inspecting merchandise to ensure that nothing is outdated. Sales worker supervisors review inventory and sales records, develop merchandising techniques, and coordinate sales promotions. In addition, they may greet and assist customers and promote sales and good public relations.

Sales worker supervisors in non-retail establishments oversee and coordinate the activities of sales workers who sell industrial products, insurance policies, or services such as advertising, financial, or Internet services. Sales worker supervisors may prepare budgets, make personnel decisions, devise sales-incentive programs, and approve sales contracts.

In small or independent companies and retail stores, sales worker supervisors not only directly supervise sales associates, but they also are responsible for the operation of the entire company or store. Some are self-employed business or store owners.

Work environment. Most sales worker supervisors have offices. In retail trade, their offices are within the stores, usually close to the areas they oversee. Although they spend some time in the office completing merchandise orders or arranging work schedules, a large portion of their workday is spent on the sales floor, supervising employees or selling merchandise.

Work hours of supervisors vary greatly among establishments because work schedules usually depend on the needs of the customer. Supervisors generally work at least 40 hours a week. Long, irregular hours are common, particularly during sales, holidays, busy shopping seasons, and at times when inventory is recorded. Supervisors are expected to work some evenings and weekends but usually are given a day off during the week. Hours can change weekly, and supervisors sometimes must report to work on short notice, especially when employees are absent. Independent owners often can set their own schedules, but hours must be convenient to customers.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Sales worker supervisors usually gain knowledge of management principles and practices through work experience. Many supervisors begin their careers as salespersons, cashiers, or customer service representatives. These workers should be patient, decisive, and sales-oriented.

Education and training. There is no standard educational requirement for sales worker supervisors, and the educational backgrounds of these workers vary widely. For some jobs, a college degree is required. Supervisors who have college degrees often hold associate or bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts, social sciences, business, or management. College graduates usually can enter directly into management training programs sponsored by their company, without much experience. Many supervisors, however, are hired without postsecondary education. For these workers, previous experience in a sales occupation is essential. Most sales worker supervisors have retail sales experience or experience as a customer service representative. In these positions, they learn merchandising, customer service, and the basic policies and procedures of the company.

Regardless of education level or major area of study, recommended high school or college courses include those related to business, such as accounting, marketing, management, and sales, as well as those related to social science, such as psychology, sociology, and communication. To gain experience, many college students participate in internship programs that usually are developed jointly by schools and businesses.

The type and amount of training available to supervisors varies by company. Many national retail chains and companies have formal training programs for management trainees that include both classroom and on-site training. Training time may be as brief as 1 week or may last more than 1 year, giving trainees experience during all sales seasons.

Ordinarily, classroom training includes topics such as interviewing, customer service skills, inventory management, employee relations, and scheduling. Training programs for retail franchises are generally extensive, covering all functions of the company’s operation, including budgeting, marketing, management, finance, purchasing, product preparation, human resource management, and compensation.

Other qualifications. Sales worker supervisors must possess good communication skills and get along with all types of people. They need initiative, self-discipline, good judgment, and decisiveness. Patience and a conciliatory temperament are necessary when dealing with demanding customers. Supervisors also must be able to motivate, organize, and direct the work of their employees. Supervisors who own their own establishment need good business skills and strong customer service and public relations skills.

Advancement. Supervisors who display leadership and team-building skills, motivation, and decisiveness may become candidates for promotion to assistant manager or manager. A postsecondary degree may speed their advancement into management. In many retail establishments, managers are promoted from within the company. In small retail establishments, where the number of positions is limited, advancement to a higher management position also may be limited. Large establishments often have extensive career ladder programs and may offer supervisors the opportunity to transfer to another store in the chain or to the central office. Although promotions may occur more rapidly in large establishments, some managers may need to relocate every several years to be able to advance.

Supervisors also can become advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers—workers who coordinate marketing plans, monitor sales, and propose advertisements and promotions. They may also become purchasing managers, buyers, or purchasing agents—workers who purchase goods and supplies for their organization or for resale.

Some supervisors who have worked in their industry for a long time open their own stores or sales firms. However, retail trade and sales occupations are highly competitive, and although many independent owners succeed, some fail to cover expenses and eventually go out of business.

Employment for Sales Supervisors

Sales worker supervisors held about 2.2 million jobs in 2008. Approximately 34 percent were self-employed, many of whom were store owners. About 48 percent of sales worker supervisors were wage and salary workers employed in the retail sector. Some of the largest employers were grocery stores, department stores, clothing and clothing accessory stores, and general merchandise stores such as warehouse clubs and supercenters. The remaining sales worker supervisors worked in nonretail establishments.

Job Outlook

Employment is projected to grow more slowly than average. Competition for jobs is expected; applicants with a college degree or sales experience should have the best opportunities.

Employment change. Employment of sales worker supervisors is expected to grow by 5 percent between 2008 and 2018, more slowly than the average for all occupations. Job growth will be limited as retail companies increase the responsibilities of retail salespersons and existing sales worker supervisors, and as the retail industry, overall, grows at a slow rate.

Projected employment growth of sales worker supervisors will mirror, in part, the patterns of employment growth in the industries in which they work. For example, faster growth is expected in the professional, scientific, and technical services industry, as a result of strong demand for the services that this industry provides. Conversely, growth of sales worker supervisors will increase more slowly in the retail sector, in-line with overall industry growth.

Job prospects. Similar to other supervisor positions, competition is expected for sales worker supervisor jobs over the 2008-18 period. Candidates who have a college degree, and those with experience—as a sales representative, cashier, or customer service representative, for example—will have the best opportunities.

Some job openings over the next decade will occur as experienced supervisors move into higher levels of management, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force. However, these job openings will not be great in number since movement into upper management is also competitive.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Number Percent
Supervisors, sales workers 41-1000 2,192,300 2,305,100 112,800 5
First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers 41-1011 1,685,500 1,773,900 88,400 5
First-line supervisors/managers of non-retail sales workers 41-1012 506,800 531,200 24,400 5
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Sales Supervisors

Wages of sales worker supervisors vary substantially, depending on a worker’s level of responsibility, length of service, and the type, size, and location of the firm.

Median annual wages of supervisors of retail sales workers were $35,310, including commissions, in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $27,520 and $46,450. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $61,970. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of wage and salary supervisors of retail sales workers were as follows:

Building material and supplies dealers $37,710
Grocery Stores 35,140
Clothing stores 34,180
Other general merchandise stores 30,590
Department stores 30,480

Median annual wages of supervisors of non-retail sales workers were $68,100, including commissions, in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $51,380 and $98,080. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,830, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $136,180. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of wage and salary supervisors of non-retail sales workers were as follows:

Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers $82,880
Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers 81,100
Machinery equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 68,260
Machinery equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 66,470
Postal service 60,730

Compensation systems vary by type of establishment and by merchandise sold. Many supervisors receive a commission or a combination of salary and commission. Under a commission system, supervisors receive a percentage of department or store sales. Thus, these supervisors’ earnings depend on their ability to sell their product and the condition of the economy. Those who sell large amounts of merchandise or exceed sales goals often receive bonuses or other awards.