As she flips through buying catalogs of children’s toys and accessories, Stephanie Martinez ’16 said she never imagined her first post-graduation job would land her in Houston, where she serves as an assistant buyer for Stage Stores Inc. at the company’s new corporate headquarters near the Galleria.
Operating in approximately 800 stores in 38 states, Stage Stores is a national conglomerate that specializes in providing brand name clothing, footwear, home décor and cosmetics to small towns and communities through stores like Bealls, Goodys, Palais Royal, Peebles and Stage.
Martinez curates children’s toys and accessories for boys and young men ages 2 to 20 and enjoys the daily challenge of working in a fast-paced environment. From completing buyer’s reports to making advertising decisions, she successfully manages a full plate of tasks thanks in part to the experience and knowledge she gained as an M.B. Zale Leadership Scholar at Mays Business School’s Center for Retailing Studies—one of the nation’s most prestigious retailing education programs.
Stephanie Martinez '16 attributes her successful retailing career to the M.B. Zale Leadership Scholars program in Mays Business SChool.
Becoming a Businesswoman
“I’ll be honest,” said Martinez, a first-generation student who graduated with a degree in marketing, “I had no idea what I wanted to do when I came to college.”
To find her footing, Martinez involved herself in the Regents’ Ambassador Program, a learning community in Mays Business School for Regents’ Scholars, as well as the Student Retailing Association. “That’s when retail fell into my lap,” she recalled. “It was exciting and challenging. Plus, it perfectly marries my knack for numbers with my passion for fashion.”
Through her Regents’ adviser, Dr. Henry Musoma ’00, Martinez learned about the Zale Scholars Program and applied her junior year. Though the interview process was intense, her efforts paid off. “My acceptance solidified that retail was the right field for me,” she said.
The M.B. Zale Leadership Scholars Program was founded in 1997 through a $1 million endowed gift from Donald Zale ’55 in honor of his late father Morris B. Zale, founder of jewelry retailer Zale Corp.
His gift created the M.B. Zale Chair in Retailing and Marketing Leadership, held by Dr. Leonard Berry, but portions of the chair’s funds provide operational support for the scholars program.
It is just one component of Zale’s lifelong mission to develop the next generation of retailing leaders who understand how to run businesses, drive sales and motivate teams. In 1983, he encouraged the launch of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University.
“The Zale Scholars Program is the leading undergraduate development group for top retailing students,” said Kelli Hollinger ’02, who joined the Center for Retailing Studies in 2003 and become the program’s faculty adviser in 2014.
Acceptance into the program is highly competitive, as only four to eight students are admitted each semester. To qualify, students must maintain a 3.0 GPA, exhibit leadership potential and—above all—be committed to a career in retailing.
The eighth Zale store, located in San Antonio, Texas, in the late 1930s.
“This is the ultimate high-impact learning experience,” said Hollinger. “Students rarely remember the information they learn from lectures or memorize for tests, but hands on professional development, executive mentoring and travel leave lasting impressions.”
As Zale Scholars, students interact with CEO-level retailers at the Center for Retailing Studies’ annual Retailing Summit in Dallas; gain insider knowledge about the industry from executives who speak in marketing classes; and travel to New York during spring break to visit flagship retail stores and buying offices.
“Through these opportunities, students learn how rewarding a career in retailing can be,” said Lauren Osborne '05, program manager. “Zale Scholars network and learn from the best.”
The travel experience was Martinez’s favorite aspect of the program. “The trip to New York took the program full circle for me,” she said. “We received business advice from former Zale Scholars who now work for national and international retail companies.”
Zale Scholars are also required to participate in the Retailing Career Fair, hosted by the Center for Retailing Studies, which is where Martinez landed her job with Stage Stores.
“I was drawn to Stage Stores because they offer an incredible 10-week executive trainee program. It allowed me to see what retailing is like from both the buying and planning perspective before deciding which direction to pursue,” Martinez said. “I believe that having the opportunity to talk to representatives from the company in casual and business settings put me above my competition for the job.”
Upon graduating and earning a Certificate in Retail, Zale Scholars often receive multiple job offers. Graduates have joined successful brands including Amazon, Oracle, JCPenny, Shell and H-E-B.
Buying into the Future
As the Center for Retailing Studies’ director, Hollinger believes more can be done to promote retail careers to students across campus. She hopes to recruit Aggies in other disciplines, like engineering, computer science and analytics.
“It’s our responsibility to welcome the changing talent needs facing retail companies,” Hollinger said. “By expanding the program to include different majors, we can prepare students with a broader, more technical skill set to enter into careers in retail.”
Zale Scholars visit flagship retail stores and buying offices during a spring break trip to New York.
With additional funding, Hollinger would also incorporate new workshops about business etiquette, effective networking and executive presence. “We need more touch points for professional development,” she said. “Classes teach students the academic competencies they need, but there’s an important art to the business world that must also be taught.”
Finally, Hollinger’s ultimate dream is to offer Zale Scholars a trip abroad. “Retail is a global industry,” she added. “Through an international trip, students would acquire first-hand knowledge about manufacturing, sourcing, different consumer markets, cultures and sustainability issues. It would give our scholars a competitive edge.”
Martinez couldn’t be more grateful for the program’s role in making her retail-ready. “I landed my dream job right out of college,” she added, “and I owe it to the M.B. Zale Leadership Scholars Program for opening that door for me.”