The institute was formed in 1980 by Santa Clara faculty members working with an Advisory Board of leading figures in Northern California retailing. Today the advisory board includes national leaders in the retail industry, including senior executives from Cost Plus World Market, DFS Group, Gap, HUGO BOSS, IBM, Macy's, Trader Joe's, and Williams-Sonoma.

The institute provides unique educational and career development opportunities for students and retail professionals through three major programs:

The Retail Studies Program for the students of Santa Clara University produces Institute graduates that are strongly motivated and highly educated in both business and the humanities. They are already well-informed about retailing through internships and on-campus exposure to retail executives. Open to undergraduates in every field who are interested in retailing careers. Santa Clara University's Retail Management Institute is a leader in preparing graduates to meet these new and heightened challenges.

The institute also is a leader in two other important areas: management development and serious research into questions of concern to the retail industry.

Retailers are served, too with Executive Education consisting of open-enrollment Management Development Programs, seminars and custom-designed programs. The institute works with individual companies, trade organizations, and other industry groups to develop programs of current interest.

Service to the retail industry is rendered in a third key area by the institutes Retail research program, the Retail Workbench Research and Education Center. The Workbench aims to expand knowledge and solve important problems using advanced information technologies to meet the needs of decision makers in rapidly changing retail environment.