By Claire Reilly

SYDNEY, NSW: Young retailers from around the country gathered in Sydney yesterday to recognise outstanding achievement in retail at the 2011 NRA Young Retailer of the Year Award.

The event, which was spearheaded by the National Retail Association, featured 23 retail finalists all under the age of 25 and from a variety of sectors across the industry. The finalists were taken from a list of 64 nominees, and whittled down to a shortlist of 10 before the winner and runner up were announced.

Among the 10 shortlisted finalists was Matt McMahon, a store manager and refit team leader for Dick Smith electronics in Mount Ommaney, Queensland. 22 year old Mcmahon has undertaken a Bachelor of Business and moved up through the ranks of the Dick Smith company, progressing to the position of assistant store manager in 18 months, and becoming a store manager at just 20 years of age.

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Speaking about the award ceremony, McMahon said it was a great opportunity to recognise the contribution of young people to the retail industry.

“I love what I do, and it’s great to get some recognition for what you do. Sometimes you don’t get recognised when you’re someone so young, but for me it was great to have a superior say, ‘you’re doing a great job’.

“Retail is definitely overlooked as an industry. For young people, careers advisors don’t say you should go into retail, but 84 per cent of people have their first job in retail. If you’re a people-person it’s a great job for you. And even if you’re not, there are so many different areas you can work in. People think retail is just serving customers, but it’s a lot more than that.

“My biggest piece of advice would be to have fun while you’re working. That’s the best thing about this job – being in a fun retail environment, it’s fast-paced and it’s edgy. I wouldn’t have stayed with the company for so long if there wasn’t such great support.”

Debra Singh, general manager of Dick Smith for Australia and New Zealand said that the event was a great way to recognise the achievements of young people in retail.

“These people here today are the future of retail,” she said. “It’s great to see so many young people being recognised.”

Also speaking about the event was the event host and executive director of the NRA, Gary Black.

“It’s an event which really tries to profile retail as a career of choice for young people. There are fantastic opportunities for kids in retail. You can start at quite a base function and, sometimes without a qualification, you can go on to quite significant managerial roles.

“I doubt whether any other industry can offer such a diversity of roles as retail – whether it’s IT, marketing, PR, human resources, sales, operations or many more.”

The winner of this year’s award was Jennifer Skeahan-Heugh of Kmart in Tamworth, and the runner up was Tim Burdon of Caltex Australia. As a part of her prize, Skeahan-Hugh will join the Westfield World Retail Study Tour in 2012.

The Dick Smith team at the Young Retailer of the Year Awards: National HR manager Marcella Davies, the suitably bespectacled nominee Matt McMahon, general manager of Dick Smith Debra Singh and national operations manager Armando Pedruco.