Mark Etelamaki is a Marine Corps veteran who is a sales associate for Banana Republic in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We asked Mark about his experiences with Banana Republic, and how his military background has helped in his current role.
Can you tell us about your background?
I was in the Marine Corps for seven years, four of which were on active duty. I started out as every other Marine but within about two years and ten months I was a sergeant, rank of E-5. We weren't involved in any wars at the time, but I spent a lot of time overseas and traveling around the world, and doing all the real Marine Corps stuff, like amphibious landings, and calling in artillery and naval gunfire.
After I left active duty I briefly went into retail, working as a manager with K-Mart in apparel, and I did that for about six months before I went to university to study political science. After university I spent over 14 years as an agent with the diplomatic security service. It was like high-end bodyguard protection for the State Department. It was an interesting job because I spent most of my time overseas assigned to a U.S. embassy, so I basically used everything I learned in the military and at university. I was like a diplomat who was also a law enforcement officer who was also in charge of security, so I did a lot of different things.
What led you to your current job at Banana Republic?
I've got my own company now where I do a lot of consulting on emergency management issues, but I needed supplemental income, and I've been a Banana Republic customer since the 80s, since they had the right kind of apparel I needed in my government position. In my job as a bodyguard, you have to look good, but the clothing has to be versatile as well, and Banana Republic fit that for me. So I was always a happy customer, and it was natural for me to look into working there.
How has the transition been to becoming an employee?
It's been almost seamless. The big thing that drives Banana Republic is the customer experience. We emphasize that, and connecting with your customer, so it's just been a very positive experience as an employee. It's just a great place to work and I love it. I think our customers, especially our repeat customers, the people we see over and over again, are very loyal. There's a very personal touch to everything, and you feel that commitment. Everyone I've met -- my fellow sales associates, the management team, district sales associates -- has the same consistently positive attitude. It's one of the greatest places to work because it's such a positive environment for employees and customers. It's a place where you're allowed to blossom, and be the best. It's like a core principle -- it's a people-oriented business, and you can only make connections with other people when you're happy and content. You feel like you're well-supported, and the people around you are the same way. It's good people surrounded by good people, which is probably one of the reasons we're successful as a company.
What's a typical "day in the life" for you?
I work a lot of mornings -- there's a lot of routine stuff to take care of before the store opens, like making sure the fitting rooms and customer areas are clean, and our displays are properly set up. As soon as the doors open, my day mainly involves greeting customers, and helping them select outfits. In our market here at Hampton Roads in Virginia Beach, we have a lot of military customers, including foreign military, from Great Britain and Germany. For me it's interesting, as I've met people who know the type of work I did for the State Department, so you're still making those same connections. Physically, it's the same crowd of people, so it's actually been a very smooth transition for me, which is why I feel at home here.
What general advice would you have for veterans interested in retail jobs?
I would just say to be yourself. For every career, you have to be who you are. In a job where you're defined by what you do every day and how you relate with people, being who you are is far more important than your technical skills. Besides the technical skills, the military develops who you are as a person, so when I came out of the military I sold myself as a leader. I got into retail management early in my career because [leadership] was recognized in me. It's important to make a self-assessment, be who you are, and who you are goes beyond the technical specifics of what you do in your job. Even working in Banana Republic I'm still drawing upon skills and knowledge I learned in the military, like how to dress properly -- that was a really big thing in the Marine Corps. You can look good or you can look great, and the emphasis [in the Marine Corps] was on being the best that you can be, all the time. Our uniforms had to be perfectly hung the right way, your clothing had to be folded, everything had to be neat and presentable in the way you dressed -- your shirts, your ties, your trousers, your shoes, everything. It was a very high standard and I still draw on that every day when I serve customers.
[For Banana Republic discounts for servicemembers, veterans and families, visit the Military.com Discount Center.]