When I tell people that I am a visual merchandiser, that’s usually followed by an “oh, okay” then some silence as they ponder what in the world that actually means. It probably conjures the image of someone who styles manikins for a living–which can be part of the job…if you work for a fashion retailer. Since I work at a furniture store, my role is a bit different though not too different. You see, home furnishings are basically like fashion for the home!
So what is a visual merchandiser, anyway? What does she/he do? It really is a fun job all-in-all, though I do think there are some common misconceptions about what it entails. So today, I’m sharing 4 Reasons I Love Being a Visual Merchandiser (at a Furniture Store) that may not only shed some light on my role but also inspire others who may be interested in the position themselves as a starting point for their careers!
1. Visual merchandisers not only get to use their magic to make stores look great… We even make things disappear! (That is, sell.)
One of the first assumptions a lot of people make when it comes to the role of visual merchandisers (or VMs) is that we simply wave our magic wands and make things look pretty, but there’s a lot more to the job than this. Yes, we’re magicians and it is our goal to make sure store merchandise always looks its best, but at the end of the day we want it all to sell, too! That’s why stores are in the retail business, after all: to make money. It’s soooo important that those in our position keep this in mind as they go about their day-to-day routine.
We may personally think we created the best display ever 4 weeks ago, but if a sofa has been sitting in the same place for that long and hasn’t made a sale (sad face), then we already know, deep in the impending sadness of our hearts, that it’s time to try something different. Maybe it needs to be displayed near other merchandise in a different way or with a new color scheme. Maybe we need to show customers how to use that sofa in an alternative way or setting. Sometimes, simply moving slow-selling merchandise to a new area of the store does the trick.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at something, thought, “hmm, that’s been there a while,” moved it…then came back a couple hours later only to find it (finally) gone. I’ve even had customers eagerly snatch some merchandise off my work cart before I’ve even placed it onto the show floor! It’s really quite amusing and satisfying, in a way.
Situations like this just go to show that our decisions as visual merchandisers have a direct impact on store sales. That’s what makes us so valuable.
2. There’s never a dull moment.
This goes back to that image of the “pillow fluffer” who gets to play with pretty things and decorate all day. Honestly, some days it’s a luxury when I get to the decorating part of my job! You wouldn’t believe how physically involved being a visual merchandiser can be or how fast time flies on any given day. There’s always something to do.
Mondays are particularly eventful because visual merchandisers at the store I work at don’t usually work weekends (another perk)…which means it’s not been maintained for two days straight. (I also start my days at 6am, so there’s that.) On Mondays, I find things have been moved all over the place, so following the weekend I spend that first day recovering the store. Sometimes I’ll find a large cabinet has been moved from the front of the store all the way to the rear.
Guess who gets to move it back?
Granted, we do have floor prep guys who help whenever they can, but I really try to do as much as I can on my own because they are just as busy off-loading goods from trucks in the mornings and prepping them to be brought out onto the show floor–not to mention preparing customers orders for pickup! Once I know what all needs to be done that day, I’ll make a plan to fix the most glaring issues on the floor (like missing furniture or artwork on walls, etc.) and then move what I can.
I work with two other VMs, as well, so we all have portions of the store that we focus on. Since I’m at the front of the store, I have to make sure that looks good before the store opens (10am for us) and then I can focus on areas farther back. Later on, I assist with furniture placement as well as bringing out (and sometimes prepping) more accessories for our gondolas. After most of the heavy-lifting has been done, then I can focus on the details (aka decorate). Some days there isn’t much time for that last part.
The great thing about all of this? Time is flying. I really don’t have the time to think about it! And when things do slow down, that gives me the opportunity to work on new projects or try something new with certain displays that have been around for a long time or just don’t seem to be getting much interest.
In other words, never a dull moment!
3. Everything is temporary…which means I’m always creating something new!
I think one of the benefits of doing something like visual merchandising over interior design is the rate at which you’re creating things. At a busy furniture store, you are always updating displays and building new ones. It’s a daily thing. Whereas with interior design, projects take a lot more time (sometimes months, even years) so you don’t get to see the results as quickly.
Of course, you have less freedom working for a retailer who sells specific furniture designs and also has certain sales goals and a certain brand image they want to communicate a certain way with their merchandise plus a set store layout and design (no biggie!), but if you like the challenge of thinking on your feet and coming up with new solutions–something that inherently comes with the face pace of VM life–then it’s a pretty fair trade-off, I’d say.
One important lesson I’ve learned as a visual merchandiser is not to get (too) attached to my work because the reality is there’s a good chance that what I created today will be gone tomorrow! To put your heart and soul into a display, only to come in the next day and see it partially (or totally) dismantled… At first, it may feel like a stab through the heart (gaaaah! not again!), but there truly is no greater compliment than to see something you put together gone because someone just had to have it in their homes that day.
Sometimes, though, things disappear because they’ve simply been moved and you’ll find it later and have to put it back. Sometimes things change because another employee was asked to change it while you were gone. None of it should be taken personally and really, all it does is give you the opportunity to build something new. That’s really how you have to look at things or else you will always walk around feeling butthurt and grumpy because so-n-so took this or so-n-so did that.
It’s really not about you; it’s about inspiring the customer to buy stuff! The great thing is I can take pride in (and maybe even a quick picture of) what I’ve done each day knowing that at least one display I’ve created has done just that: inspire others to buy.
4. You never stop learning because the possibilities are endless.
One of the great things about working in visual merchandising is that you’ll find people of all different sorts of backgrounds doing it, and they each bring something unique to the table. I’ve worked with other visuals who have experience as artists in painting and drawing, interior design, graphic design, fashion design and more! There’s such a wealth of knowledge in our community that it’s pretty much impossible not to be learn something new on a regular basis, so long as you’re open to it. Everyone has their own unique spin on what they do. I’m always learning new techniques.
I get asked a lot if I have a degree or whether I needed one to earn my position as a VM. My answer: yes, I have one (in interior design, actually), but it’s not always required to have a degree or a specific one to become a visual merchandiser. It just depends on the employer’s requirements, really. The most important thing is that you have some kind of creative background and something to show for it. I find keeping an updated portfolio, and even posting your work on social media such as Instagram, really helps. (That’s actually how I found out about my current position: Instagram!)
Keep in mind that if you do have some kind of artistic education, it is only a starting point. (That goes for any education, honestly, but especially for this position.) Most visual merchandisers did not go to school for visual merchandising because very few schools currently offer this as an option. It really is a learned profession, for the most part, though I’m sure it will evolve into more prominence and even more sophistication over time. (The company I work for has a couple of people on the corporate level who use their design training to do things like plan where various furniture sets should be slotted in each store with AutoCAD (computer-aided drafting software) and how to divide each store into unique “lifestyles” that make it easier for customers to shop by style, which is pretty cool.) The schools that do have programs for visual merchandising all focus on the fashion industry, as well, as far as I’ve seen to date, and there really are some notable differences between doing visuals for the fashion industry versus furniture. So keep that in mind if you’re looking to study in this field.
Personally, I’ve always wanted to go into teaching, but I also want to be the kind of teacher that comes from a varied background and has a wealth of knowledge to share. One day, I hope to be able to teach an elective course, perhaps, that focuses on visual merchandising for furniture retailers as an alternative to a career in interior design. I know a lot of people who graduated with design degrees but aren’t necessarily using them as interior designers (if not using them at all!), so I think it would be helpful for some to learn more about visual merchandising and be aware of their options!
Being a visual merchandiser at a furniture store is a pretty specialized field, in my opinion, one that will only continue to grow with increased recognition and unlimited possibilities. That, in itself, if quite exciting! Another similar profession is prop/photo styling for magazines or in-house for large companies with their own marketing program. Personally, I would love to get into that side, as well, but we’ll see how things play out for me, now won’t we?
Have you considered becoming a visual merchandiser?
Or maybe you just wanna to learn more about what I do? Perhaps you want to know something else that I haven’t shared before on the blog or aren’t seeing much of on others. I’ve been having an hard time figuring out what I should focus on here at THHT, honestly, as more of my life has been dedicated to visual merchandising over interior design of late. As such, I am brainstorming more relevant content for my blog and want to know if this is something people are interested in, so let me know what you think in the comments!
Disclaimer: All opinions are mine own and not those of my employer. All images were taken by me and are of my work. :)