Real-life retail

Nichol Nelson

The old adage states that “those who can’t do, teach.”
Kim Johnson, a professor in the Department of Design, Housing and Apparel set out to prove she was capable of both.
Johnson decided that if she wanted to teach students the ins and outs of retail management, she should have real world experience. Armed with her doctorate, Johnson took retail management training programs through both J.C. Penney’s and Target so she could eventually bring the realities of retail management into the classroom.
“The more I learn about what (retailers) do, the better I can prepare students,” Johnson said.
Delores Ginther is the undergraduate adviser in Johnson’s department. Ginther, who runs her own private practice in lighting design, said working in the outside world is helpful when teaching.
“It adds a different dimension to examples that you give in class,” Ginther said.
Johnson had no retail management experience when she completed doctorate.
To train with Target in 1996, Johnson applied for a leave from the Department of Design, Housing and Apparel. The decision of the University and her department to pay for the experience validated her choice, she said.
“It was a clear indication to me that my department, my college, clearly valued this project,” Johnson said.
Her training at the two stores involved everything from stocking shelves to dealing with customer complaints, Johnson said.
“You name it, I was schlepping it,” she said.
Working outside of the academic community gave Johnson a feel for new trends developing in the retail world. Target, for example, is working on ways to automate its operations to compensate for the nationwide labor shortage.
Johnson said she was able to use her knowledge in the classroom to create assignments and activities to help students understand what companies will expect from them when they graduate.
“I want to make sure that when students leave here, they know what they’re getting into,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s experience isn’t just an asset to her students either.
Al Linner, a store team leader at the Target store in Fridley, said Johnson’s experience at Target made her a good recruiting tool for the company.
Linner estimates that Target recruits more than 30 interns each year from the University.