Faster than you can jam a joystick into hyper drive, entertainment-electronics retailers will be gearing up with gadgets, gizmos, games...

Share story

Faster than you can jam a joystick into hyper drive, entertainment-electronics retailers will be gearing up with gadgets, gizmos, games and big-screen gifts for under the tree.

While some analysts predict sales during this year’s holiday-shopping season could be “soft” — anywhere from flat to up slightly from last year — most say electronics could be the wild card.

The folks trying to deal a flush: salespeople who patrol the retail aisles of home-electronics “superstores,” street-corner video and PC-game shops, and high-end specialty retailers.

This is the time of year when retailers are hiring entry-level and experienced salespeople to answer customers’ questions about anything from gigabytes and nanobits to pixels, woofers and tweeters.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The key to securing a long-term job or landing a seasonal position, according to local and national entertainment-electronics retailers, is showing the right combination of customer-service skills and technical know-how.

“It can be a young person’s job for reasons that are twofold,” says Christopher Brandon, manager of EBGames at Seattle’s Westlake Center. “One, you need work flexibility. It’s retail, so you have to be able to work weekends. And, two, you have to be able to tech-talk.

“As a manager, I can help you along with customer-service skills, but unless you have a true passion for gaming or the product you’re selling, you can’t truly convey that enthusiasm.”

It’s common for Brandon to get applications from “gamers” who are “so focused on the games they love they might lose out on true customer services — the real meat and potatoes of the business.

“You need someone who knows how to answer customers’ questions without ‘Dude, I love PlayStation’ or ‘Xbox sucks.’ That’s not the right fit. It’s a balancing act. You need to be gregarious with the right ‘yahoo’ kind of attitude.”

At Best Buy, the nation’s largest electronics retailer, spokeswoman Dawn Bryant agrees.

“The people who do the best at these jobs are those who love the stuff that we sell,” Bryant says. “It doesn’t mean they have to have previous sales experience, but it is helpful to the customer if they are excited about the product and love to tell people about it.”

That doesn’t mean you have to be a techno-geek to land a sales job in entertainment electronics. While it helps to be fluent in the lingo surrounding digital cameras, high-definition TVs and the PC games, other qualities are just as important, hiring managers say.

Knowing how to work with customers is crucial, they say.

Typical video gamers are now in their late 20s, so adults — not teens — are now pushing sales.

And adult females in charge of many household purchases are now being targeted by Best Buy. A new sales staff of “personal shopping assistants” is being introduced in a handful of cities across the country, and will arrive in the Seattle area in the next few years.

These consultants are trained to assist “busy moms” with one-on-one service for anything from digital imaging, kitchen and laundry appliances to gaming and home theaters.

That’s why most entertainment-electronics retailers also balance their staffing with experienced and well-educated workers.

Increasingly, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, retailers are hiring college graduates as management trainees. That means people like Brandon, a 1993 college graduate with experience as a software-product manager and buyer, is a strong commodity.

Historically, Bryant says, a typical Best Buy store employs about 120 employees and will beef up its seasonal staffing with an additional 35 workers — mostly entry-level, part-time salespeople and cashiers. About 90 percent of a store’s staff works on the sales floor, she says.

And what are entertainment-electronics retailers moving out the door?

Mobile DVD players, for starters. Mobile video-display screens and accessories sales in 2004 topped $830 million — almost twice their sales from the previous year. That could jump to nearly $2 billion this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

At home, viewers are clicking channels on nearly 266 million TVs this year — and remote controls will continue to smoke as that number grows by about 3.5 million per year.

Retail PC-game sales, meanwhile, have dipped a bit each year since 1998, according to industry trend-watcher NPD Techworld. In 2004, console- and portable-software sales were up $6.2 billion — about 8 percent — from the previous year, but hardware and accessory sales were down $3.7 billion — about 35 percent — during the same time.

How do these sales trends affect hiring opportunities?

“Popularity of seasonal products doesn’t determine how many people work at any one store,” Bryant says.

True, Brandon adds.

“We’re just working harder and more hours, though by November we’ll be expanding for the holiday season,” he says.

EBGames, which operates more than 2,000 stores on four continents, employs more than 5,000 people. Circuit City employs 40,000 workers in 600 stores across the country.

Once hired, salaries vary based on employer, but in the greater King/Snohomish counties area, retail salaries range from about $8.35 to $14.39 hourly, according to the state Employment Security Department. The average wage is about $12.38 hourly. Full-time employees can expect benefits packages.

Independent and smaller electronic-entertainment retailers also have the flexibility to offer sales incentive bonuses and paid vacation.

That’s part of the reason why Don Low likes working at Al’s Music, Video and Games in Seattle’s University District.

“I can say what’s on my mind [about products] and I can lower the price on something that’s not moving if I want to,” Low says. “And I don’t have to wear a uniform.”