I still don’t know what career I’d like after graduating, but in my quest to find something I going to try all the jobs. Today I got to be a visual merchandiser at The Hepworth Wakefield’s shop. I work in the shop as a Retail Assistant, so didn’t have to go to far to ask if I could help to merchandise the shop when the spring/summer stock was ready for display. I was also interested in learning more about the point of sale – the design and copy choices.
The date for the re-merchandising was chosen because it was just before the Easter holidays, so a great time to introduce a lighter more summery colour palette and products. There were three of us and the Retail Manager the shop for a whole day, and it really needed that many people and time, despite it being a relatively small retail unit.
Rosie, the manager, hadstock and colours planned well in advance, and had a plan of where the new stock would go in the store, but did not have a clear layout in mind (unlike national high streets brands would). This was great as it meant there was freedom to find the best way to display the items and pull other products from throughout the store on the shelf you were working on because it matched, either with he subject matter or with colours or use.
I got to do two bays of shelves by myself, and this is the result
The only new stock I had to deal with were a swap out from the winter scarfs to the summer ones, a new vase range (which matched some tea light holders we already carried), and additional colours for the very popular tea light holders. The tea light holders needed to be displayed in sets of three as they could be purchased individual or in a group of three.
When I started I was initially worried as I felt the pressure of doing the work and not being very sure about where to put everything, but once I started experimenting with the shapes of the objects and the different colours, it started coming together. I had the Hepworth Birthday Scarf to my shelves as the colours matched so well, and it helped to connect the two bays together, with scarfs now being on both and each of their colours matching the ceramics available.
I found interesting way to display the scarfs to their best potential, and colour themes for the shelves that could help draw attention to the items.
Once I was finished, I helped Fiona with the window display. There were two ranges to display – the brand new Magpie range of textiles, and the House Doctor range of kitchen ware. The shelves needed merchandised for the visitor viewing it from both the inside and out, and really needed to showcase the shop as a whole.
I did the kitchen ware layout, suggested the best way we displayed the pot holders was to hang them, and suggested we stuffed the toiletry bags for display purposes and then put the remainder in a perspex bucket for display. I also suggested we put the pot holders in a perspex bucket for display – they were flat on the shelf, but put them vertical made them so much more animated and inviting. Rosie wanted the tins used as a feature on the top of the shelves. I initially thought going big to small, small to big, in a wave would be nice, but it didn’t work, so I tried the peak idea and it looked really good.
When we thought we’d finished, I realised we missed a bit of ‘shopability’ checking and noticed that we had used the tins a lot for display, but had none available to buy! I popped the remainder out in places that could be easily picked up by people who liked the display tins.
What I learnt about the mechanics of merchandising it that items have a natural place in the display and you know this by looking at it’s relationship with the other items and knowing how people behave in and around the shop. Once in place, the items can be pretty lifeless – you have to do something to add interest. Once all that is done, a bit of height or level variation really adds the finishing touches. I’m sure there’s way more to the job – consumer behaviour, colour theory, eye trackers… – but that is all I learnt in my one day trying it out as a job.
I really enjoyed doing it. It was physically and mentally quite demanding, but I think I’ve got an eye for this area of work and an need to organise, so it came quite easy.
As a career
As visual merchandising goes, I don’t think my day was an example of the most challenging or creative version of the job, although it still had these elements. High end shops like Harvey Nichols, Hermes, etc have extremely innovative and creative store fronts, often employing artists to make site specific works to showcase the stores products. There are also lots of blogs dedicated to store windows and visual merchandising, and I really enjoy reading them.
The National Career Service has a page on Visual Merchandising as a career…
If you love making things look good and like being creative, this could be perfect for you. Visual merchandisers (also known as window dressers or display assistants) use their design skills to help promote the image, products and services of retail businesses and other organisations. They create eye-catching product displays and store layouts and design to attract customers and encourage them to buy.
To become a visual merchandiser, you would usually either have a background in design or work your way up through the retail industry. You could also gain a higher education qualification in display or merchandising.
A visual merchandiser needs to have a high level of attention to detail. They also need to be able to work to deadlines. The ability to work well as part of a team is also important.
Starting salaries can be from £12,000 to £16,000 a year.
Senior visual merchandisers can earn around £20,000 to £25,00 a year, and visual merchandising managers or designers can earn between £25,000 and £55,000 a year.
Visual merchandising directors can earn £60,000 a year and over.
You would normally become a visual merchandiser or display designer in one of two ways:
- by completing a retail design qualification at college while looking for work
- by moving from an in-store sales assistant role to a trainee visual merchandiser post.
Whether you take a college course beforehand or do on-the-job training, there is a range of qualifications that you could study towards. [NVQs in Retail, art, design or fashion degrees,
The British Display Society (BDS) also offers a distance learning course – the Certificate in Display and Visual Merchandising – which gives you some of the knowledge and skills needed for this type of work. See the BDS website for course details. British Display Society – course page
Mary Portas, a lady I very much admire, started her career as a Visual Merchandiser, and now her work within retail holds many more of my interests, including community work/social mindedness, branding, customer experience, and merchandising.