Friday, 5 December 2014

What do i do? : an insight into visual merchandising in London

Since graduating my blog posts have became less and less frequent, and although I'd shared my job vocation with you all, up until now I hadn't really explained it. A lot of people ask about my job and how I came to do it so I thought I'd give you all an insight into my experience in visual merchandising and some tips I suppose! NOTE: This is quite a long post! feel free to click off if this is'nt your kind of thing!

How it began...
I got my first big break in retail with the company Republic (now in administration) and it was alongside studying a fashion degree. Through my teens I did my fair share of pub/cafe work but I always knew I wanted to be involved with fashion retail. Republic really let me get started with that. I don't know anyone who applies for a visual job with no experience - let me be clear - this job is all about experience. There is very little training as far as I'm aware - it's very much a 'got it or you don't' kind of job. I started off by just asking questions and joining in when I could. From there every job I applied for I became an in store VM specialist and then I set my sights on becoming a instore VM, building a portfolio on what I had done really helped this, but bear in mind if you want to ditch all sales advisor duties and become strictly VM - these jobs are hard to come by and usually are only in large/mega/flagship stores as usually people are allocated as specialists - which is a great place to start. My first fully visual role was with Southampton Newlook as an instore VM, I then moved to be senior VM in a smaller store in Kent, now I have moved to the biggest and best store in the country for Newlook - Oxford circus. However I have just had an amazing opportunity, I am leaving Sunday to be a holding VM manager for Southampton store!

- Early days at Republic at an event
What is it?
To the less savvy, Visual merchandising is often misinterpreted as someone who dresses the mannequins and plays with clothes all day - and I think I speak for all VM'S when I say how frustrating and demeaning this is. Every company runs differently with reguards to how much freedom and creativity a visual merchandiser can have. To date I have worked visually for Republic, Oasis, Fuse/Hallett concessions, Debenhams and Newlook. Most of the background story is then same. Head office will watch trends for the season emerging on catwalks etc and pick the most commerical trends which they believe their consumer will buy in too, the buyers then buy product around these trends and pass this down to the merchandiser's in head office. Their job will be to create mood boards and information to send down to instore VM's in order to help us bring these to life. The instore merchandisers will then build these trends in store

- Current coldweather trend 'apres ski' in Southampton by myself

What does it entail
No day / shift is the same. Do not become a VM if you are afraid of hard work. 99% of shifts will be starting early 6/7 to make sure the shop is set for grade and any changes can be made. VM is not the kind of job where you will always leave on time, VM teams are never massive so you can't leave a mess behind - you stay behind until the job is done. But once you are a full time VM, that is all you do - I have'nt touched a till in around 6 months now!

Knitwear section by myself

The nitty gritty
A good VM can make a store look pretty, a great VM can make it look good, think commercial nd have a customer in mind. Its really important to have your mind set on money and put your personal fashion taste aside. For example the typical London customer will not need to be spoon fed a trend, so as a merchandiser you are more free to clash prints and put together more trendy outfits, but if you are working in a smaller store with a more basic customer, you must inspire them, but still stay true to their own styling choices to ensure you are increasing profit for you're company. Knowing you're best sellers is crucial this lets you know what your customer wants and where you should be placing said lines, that being said its also important to keep an eye on deparments that arent perfoming, for example if footwear was'nt selling one week you could accessorise wall bays with suitable footwear to boost add on sales. In short my job is to inspire a customer when they come in to firstly buy a garment but be inspired to put together an outfit and add on an accessory. When merchandising a wall - every wall bay should hold an outfit - for example you could'nt have three tops in one bay as you are meant to be showing your customer how to wear your product. Tactics such as product blocks can also maximise profit - for example check shirts are particularly popular this year - so instead of scattering them around the shop, it is more commerically viable to create a block where they are all together. It goes without saying most VM's have a good sense of style, for creating trends you really do have 'dress' your walls and floor - making sure print and colour is spread equally!

New 'nu luxe' trend launched by myself in Oxford Circus

Perks of the job 
> You've became more than a sales adviser - your on your first rung of the head office chain!
> Most companies sent their best VMS out and about to help launch new stores or support - this is what I've been doing lately, hotel life can be really cool at times!
Not so positives
> Crazy but rewarding hours
> A commute is imminant if you are heading out to a larger store!
> It's a personal job. VMS are emotionally involved with their work I think it's fair to say, and if you don't care about the end product you wouldn't be as good. That's not to say that everyone will love what you do, you could execute a trend and one person could love it where as someone else may come along and hate it.

I adore my job, and I would advise anyone into fashion to have a go at some point, the hours are long and I won't be doing this forever as I'm working my hardest to get into head office, but I am more than happy to keep inspiring London shoppers and making profit for my company!

If you have any questions, feel free to give me a shout!



  1. How funny, I walked past the Southampton store yesterday & really wanted to go look around, as all the outfits on the mannequins looked so good! Unfortunately I was with a guy friend who isn't into fashion at all, so I browsed the Bournemouth store today & it wasn't inspiring in the least! It's always so interesting learning about roles in specific Fashion jobs other than design :)

    1. Oh really! I'll pass that on, they will be chuffed! i'm glad you enjoyed it! i was'nt sure if this was a post everyone would enjoy! xx