Visual Merchandiser

Job Description (What the job involves)

If you’ve ever been drawn into entering a shop because of the eye-catching display of products in their window shop front then their visual merchandiser has done a great job.

And that’s because a visual merchandiser is responsible for putting together window displays and internal shop fittings and displays with the purpose of reinforcing the brands image and  promoting the shops retail goods in such a way as to direct traffic through the store  and promote sales.

A good visual merchandiser therefore can have a significant impact on the stores bottom line and plays a vital role in the retail hierarchy.

Within the beauty/cosmetics market a visual merchandising manager would typically carry out the following duties:

  • Create and maintain brand image. Visual merchandisers will look to create a consistency of style with their brand’s image and elevate that brand through visual presentation.
  • Conceptualise and arrange window displays. An essential talent of any self respecting Visual Merchandiser is the ability to create window displays that WOW.
  • Work on VM projects and product plans. Visual merchandising teams take on VM projects, each project coming with its own budget and tight timescales. Some of these projects will be seasonal i.e. Christmas promotion of beauty products whilst others might relate to new shop fit activity. The Visual merchandiser will sketch out or use graphic design software to create a visual plan of how the store and/or shop window will look even before the products arrive in store.  Some large retailers operate ‘mock-shops’ so Visual Merchandisers can get a ‘real’ feel for how their product plans are likely to work.
  •  Compile presentations for VM Projects.
  • Work with budgets and spreadsheets. Each visual merchandiser will have to work to a budget and where possible will aim to reduce costs.
  • Source props. Props are essential to Visual Merchandisers as they frame and support the products they’re promoting. Props can take on many guises. For example with the launch of cosmetic range in the summer months the props might be anything from coloured bunting, to balloons or artificial trees. Depending on their budget and ability to make or recycle previously used props the Visual Merchandiser can buy or hire in props.
  • Set up and dismantle displays. Visual merchandisers have to be ‘hands on’ and prepared to go up and down ladders, hammer elements of their display into place, dress mannequins and basically do whatever it takes to piece their display together. And of course what goes up must at some time also come down.
  • Conduct market research. Visual Merchandisers have to keep in touch with all the latest innovations in visual merchandising and product display. This may include looking at computer software programs with 3D rendering of their product presentations.  They also need their finger on the pulse of the market, to understand what’s in fashion and what will appeal to their target audience.  And of course there’s nothing that will keep you on your toes more than keeping a watchful eye on the competitors and what they’re up to.
  • Create brand consistency packs. For larger retail chains that operate multiple stores throughout the country there will be VM teams working on the company’s image. It’s important that there are visual benchmarks set so that all displays are in line with the company’s brand ideals. Liaising with the marketing dept. and creative agencies the Visual Merchandiser will create style guide documents.

Hours and Working Environment

The typical workplace of a Visual Merchandiser will be a design department of a retail design agency or retail chain, within a retail store or head office of a retail chain. However, they aren’t office based for long and will spend quite a lot of time travelling to the different retail outlets.

It’s a fabulous job for creative individuals who essentially get presented with a blank canvas ‘empty space’ and are able to exercise their creative juices to put something wonderful together to fill the space. But the job is more rewarding that simply creating something pretty. The display has to fulfil a commercial function; getting customers into the store, controlling flow of traffic within the store, supporting new product launch. There is an immense sense of satisfaction in being able to equate your visual masterpiece to the success of a particular products sales.

Working hours are typically full time but hours can be long in the lead up to a deadline and involve anti social hours i.e. working on a display when the shop is closed to the paying public.

Skills and Personal Qualities

  • Creativity and imagination. The ability to combine colour, textures, lighting and props to create a highly effective eye-catching display within the space provided is essential.
  • Commercial skills. Visual merchandisers Visual Merchandisers need to be commercial and gear their displays towards the prime objective of appealing to the target market and driving sales.
  • Well organised. Work is project driven with set budgets and at times tight deadlines. The Visual merchandiser needs to be able to successfully run their own projects and be well organised to deliver on time.
  • Technical design expertise.
  • Resourceful. It helps if you are a resourceful individual, able to use the materials at hand and be inventive. The more practical skills you have at your disposal such as sewing and carpentry the more inventive you can be.
  • Ability to think outside the box.
  • Adaptability.
  • High energy levels.

Entry Requirements

Employers tends to prefer that their visual merchandisers have some form of further education. Degree courses in visual merchandising are an obvious choice but a degree related to art & design; whether it be interior design or display design would also stand you in good stead. Increasingly with advances in technology retail chains are keen on employing Visual Merchandisers who have a diploma in graphic design.

Another good route to enter visual merchandising is via marketing or fashion marketing.

If you don’t have a relevant qualification in visual merchandising or display design then you can still make it into the visual merchandising field if you have a strong background in retail and have a sound understanding of what motivates consumer buying behavior.

For those on a retail apprenticeship program you may be able to acquire a certificate in visual merchandising as part of your NVQ in retail.

Opportunities and Progression

Opportunities for Visual merchandisers outside of retail are many and varied with opportunities to be had in retail design agencies, merchandising and regional VM management


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Potential Salary and Benefits

As more and more retailers begin to appreciate the value of the work that a Visual merchandiser does and the impact on their bottom line so the opportunities in this sector continue to grow.

Starting salaries fro Visual Merchandisers are typically around the £18,000 mark with more experienced Visual merchandisers (3 - 5 years) earning around the £24,000 to £25,000 mark.
Senior visual merchandisers with a successful track record in attracting crowds with their displays can earn between £40,000 and £50,000 a year.

If you fancy working for yourself then freelance work is big in this sector. It would be worth getting on the books of a retail design agency or contacting the visual merchandising teams of large department stores and retail chains. Work can be very seasonal with demand often peaking around the big retail rush periods like Christmas.
Reputation, experience and the strength of your portfolio can make a huge difference to your earning potential. As a rough guide junior freelancers can expect around £12 - £18 per hour with more senior visual merchandisers earning around £30 per hour

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