The time has never been better to dust down your CV and seek that promotion. Competition in the market is now so fierce that retailers are willing to shell out top dollar for the best staff, according to our biggest retail salary survey yet.

Hypermarket or larger superstore managers at the top of their game can easily command six-figure salaries, reveals the survey of more than 2,000 food retailing sector employees carried out exclusively for The Grocer by recruitment consultancy Michael Page.

Basic salaries have risen in line with inflation, with the average for a hypermarket manager being £64,000 and a superstore manager £55,000. Increasingly, however, bonuses of up to 40% mean many are taking home considerably more than this.

The industry offers very competitive packages compared with other retail sectors, such as fashion.

Certainly graduates are better off in food retail than many other industries. A typical graduate job starts at round £15,000 to £17,000 but for a retail buyer a starting salary is nearer £20,000.

Workers in the forecourt convenience store sector also have reason for cheer, with larger retail units now occupying many sites. These higher turnover sites require more experienced managers in charge of larger teams and present section managers from the grocery multiples with a quicker route to managing their own stores. Managers of forecourt convenience stores can expect to earn between £17,000 and £35,000 compared with £12,000 to £32,000 the previous year. An area manager can earn between £30,000 and £55,000, compared with between £24,000 and £45,000 last year.

Management in larger stores are benefiting from the rapid promotion opportunities the food retail environment has to offer.

"If you compare a supermarket to a non-food retailer the food store is much larger," says Russell Adams, director of Michael Page Retail. "For individuals going into a business there is a greater opportunity to manage stores of ever-increasing sizes. The real attraction is that you can join Tesco at £18,000 and in 15 years work your way up through ever larger stores to a salary of possibly six figures. Other retailers offer salary growth but you need to become a regional manager or director and it is more difficult to move up the ladder."

This also applies to head office staff, according to Chris Jones, group manager at recruitment consultancy Quest Search and Selection. "At head office level, food retail is one of the best-paid areas and certainly attracts people at graduate level," he says. "Senior roles are very well paid because of the volumes staff deal with."

However, the c-store sector continues to feel the heat from increased competition from multiples and a rise in the cost of wages, which has led many store owners to cut back on staff. "The national minimum wage, increased holiday entitlement and pension provisions, have all added to the cost of labour for a business," says Shane Brennan, public affairs manager at the Association of Convenience Stores. "A lot of owners are doing more of the work themselves because they can't afford more staff."

Increased competition for staff from other businesses in the south east of England is also having an impact on wages. Retailers are having to increase salaries in certain areas where the competition from other industries is most fierce, says Adams

"There is a shortage of candidates, which is being driven by a growth in the number of call centres and financial service companies looking for individuals that have management and customer service skills," he says. "This has driven salaries higher."

Retailers are being forced to increase the pay for some of their less desirable positions, he adds. With many stores now trading 24 hours, the night manager salary is running ever closer to that of a store manager, although some retailers are getting around this by making the night shift a compulsory part of management trainee programmes.

"Retailers are aware of what their competitors offer and are prepared to pay well to recruit new staff and retain existing ones," says James Harbourne, public affairs director at The British Retail Consortium.

The battle for high-quality staff has intensified, agrees Tesco. "We have stepped up our recruitment efforts," says a spokeswoman. "While our in-store advertising generates a good response, we also encourage stores to build relationships and advertise within their local community to attract people."

Competition is particularly fierce at head office level. "It is not easy to recruit," says Jones. "There are not a lot of degrees that focus on the skills required and there is a shortage of candidates."

However, the struggle to find decent candidates is not as hard as in previous years believes Harbourne. "When you get up to more senior levels there is not a particular problem with finding high-quality

people," he says.

Bonuses are playing an increasing role in retailer packages and 63% of the

survey respondents cited bonuses as their preferred incentive. Managers of larger retailers can expect bonuses of up to 40% of their salary, according to Sam Silva, senior consultant at Quest.

Share options are becoming more popular, particularly among staff at the strong performing players. "Tesco has a share save scheme that many employees have benefited from and which has worked very well," says Adams. "Given that Tesco's current growth performance is likely to continue one would assume that its share price will also continue to perform well."

Whether it is for the basic wage, the high bonuses or the very generous share schemes, the retail industry has never been so attractive.n