That education is the portal to a good job is an often-mentioned statement that doesn’t always hold true. In business today, many owners and entrepreneurs don’t have the practical expertise and knowledge required to build a business that will succeed in the long-term, with the result being that nearly a quarter will fail in the first year and only half of all employer establishments survive five years or more.

Workplace experience or competency-based education is becoming increasingly popular. Alternatives to a four-year credit-based college degree are emerging, with offerings including technical training centers, associates’ degrees, licensing programs, certification programs and credentialing institutes.

There are a plethora of organizations ranging from for-profit and non-profit institutions to public school systems, that now offer education alternatives in the shipbuilding, health care, and technology industries, to name a few. Retail Alliance is doing our part with the launch of our Center for Retail Excellence (CRE).

Retail organizations come in a variety of forms and sizes and deliver to customers everything from lawn mowers, to clothing, to food, to, quite literally, the kitchen sink. Retail offers unique opportunities for people to live out their passions and is one of the most egalitarian industries in our country, and, according to National Retail Federation, supports over one million jobs in Virginia alone. A person can come from any economic, educational, cultural, gender or age group and be a successful retailer.

People coming out of the military, or entrepreneurs with a passion to open their own store may have previous specialized experience but this is often not applicable to opening and running a successful business.

Small business owners must wear a lot of hats. When they open their businesses they, all the sudden, must be experts in a lot of areas like: how to start a business, accounting, marketing, advertising, merchandising, loss prevention, HR, and business planning. It’s a lot, even for the best of us.

Competency-based education can provide many advantages to being successful in business:

  • Offer practical versus theoretical training
  • Do not require academic prerequisites that don’t correlate to successful retailing
  • Focus on the needs and requirements of adult, non-traditional learners
  • Methods, schedules and calendars for instructional delivery that are convenient and readily accessible to those involved in a running a business.

Retail Alliance developed the Center for Retail Excellence to fill the competency gap in retail. Students who complete the course work receive a Certificate in Retail Operations. The program is taught partly online, for convenience and accessibility, and partly face-to-face, for networking and support. There are no academic prerequisites for participation. To receive the certificate, students must achieve a seven-part course designed to provide them with the preparation necessary to inaugurate a successful retail business in Virginia. The cost: a reasonable $1000 per student. Students have the option of a payment plan. And for those who do not wish to pursue the full curriculum, courses may be selected and paid for as needed.

There are nearly 90,000 retail establishments in Virginia, contributing to 63.5 billion dollars in Total GDP Impact. That’s a lot of kitchen sinks. Let’s give our future entrepreneurs and existing business owners the tools they need to succeed for generations to come.

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Ray Mattes is the President/CEO of Retail Alliance. Their education arm, The Center for Retail Excellence, offers retail training to entrepreneurs and existing retailers in Hampton Roads. Visit and connect with Ray via email