Karena Hockley, trading manager

 25 March 2013

Karena worked in fashion retail before joining heritage at Birmingham Museum. She now runs the gift-shop and chooses the latest products to hit the shelves.

Karena advises to build great customer service and communication skills if you want to enter into commercial heritage. Image: Bede's World
Karena advises to build great customer service and communication skills if you want to enter into commercial heritage. Image: Bede's World

What is your home town?

I come from the West Midlands.

What is your job title?

Trading manager for Birmingham Museum.

What do you do in your job?

I look after the day-to-day running of the gift shop. My tasks include:

  • dealing with suppliers: I choose the products and have those ordered in,
  • managing the retail team of six staff members and delegate tasks,
  • recording the financial progress of the shop,
  • working closely with finance and head office teams to make sure reports are correct.

My work is a mix of things and it is more ‘back office’ focused. I am in the office mostly and go out on the shop floor sometimes to work with customers.

"The key is being able to communicate with customers."

Usually, if there is a problem, staff will come and find me to help them.

The shop is in the middle of the museum so we make the shop products relate to the museum around us. This way, visitors can take home a little piece of what is going on in the museum.

What qualifications did you do?

I didn’t go to university. I tried different courses in college and found that I didn’t like any, as I didn’t know what I wanted to do as my career.

What previous roles did you do?

While I was at college studying, I was working in a high-street department fashion store. I was a Sales Assistant on the weekends, working eight hours a week. When I decided that I didn’t want to continue in my course, I worked full-time hours at the store.

"It was through work experience that I progressed. I experienced all types of retail sectors."

I was promoted to a Concession Manager, and then to a Department Store Manager. I was measured by the performance of the store, and it achieved a £400,000 turnover at the end of the year so this was great news.

I moved to House of Fraser to work as Floor Supervisor.

It was through work experience that I progressed. I experienced all types of retail sectors – fashion, home-ware, consumer products – and it all helped.

Why did you enter heritage?

I have always wanted to work in a museum as I had a great childhood visiting museums. My parents had membership to English Heritage so I was always going on trips over summer holidays.

I happened to see the Trading Manager role and thought I would love to do it. I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to have a go at applying – If I didn’t get it, at least I can say I tried. Fortunately, the role just fit and I was selected.

What’s the best thing about the job?

I enjoy the freedom of seeing the newest products and selecting the ones that fit alongside our collections and exhibitions.

I really like to see school groups enjoying the museum and the shop. Personally, it is a real treat seeing the artefacts and collections on a daily basis.

How do I get started in heritage?

1. Do your research

If you go for an interview for a retail position, make sure you look at the products that they have, and notice what products are missing from the shop. This way you can go in with ideas.

Get to know the background of the museum and what special value they bring.

2. Be confident

If it’s really what you want to do, you should go for it. You don’t really need to have a lot of experience in heritage retail environments, as there is on-the-job training. Showing commitment to the heritage industry will help.

3. Improve your communication skills

You need to be able to communicate, smile, maintain eye contact and make people feel comfortable.

The key is being able to communicate with customers from all walks of life.

4. Have a good eye for detail

This includes brushing up on your Microsoft Excel training, as we use spreadsheets when we manage finances and stock levels.

Why is heritage important?

We need to protect our collections and maintain our history for future generations.

If museums do not charge visitors for their exhibitions, then the services become the biggest source of income. Visitors like gifts to take home, so the gift-shop is a key place for bringing in money.

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