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How to be a visual merchandising manager

This week Diane Wilkinson, divisional manager for retail operations at Fashion and Retail Personnel, talks to Drapers about how candidates should work todwards becoming a visual merchandising [VM] manager.

Where should they start?

There are a couple of routes in. The first route is from the shop floor. Talented sales assistants and retail managers who show a flair for visuals can often find a route into a visual merchandising role. The usual steps are in-store VM, then field based VM looking after a number of stores in the area. Steps after that would be possibly to move into a head office role and then progression to VM manager would follow.

The second route would be through head office, starting as a VM assistant or co-ordinator. This would usually be for creative graduates who had studied fashion or VM and also had some shop floor experience. The route would then be to progress form assistant to VM, then to VM manager.

Where should they train?

There are some VM specific courses that can be useful but nothing beats hands on experience, on the shop floor, understanding how the customer shops and what sells.

What sort of experience do they need?

VM is extremely competitive so a variety of experience from shop floor based VM to experience in head office roles settling guidelines etc. would give candidates the best all round skills.

What skills do they need?

Creativity is key but more and more retailers are looking for talented VMs who can make an impact on their bottom line. It’s no longer enough to just make the stores look good. They have to be able to analyse sales data, be aware of bestsellers, know the different markets (i.e. a customer in Manchester City centre is a world apart from your customer in a market town in Surrey) and have knowledge of who their competitors are and what they are doing. It’s important that they have a keen interest in fashion and are able to predict trends. A finger on the pulse of the popular culture is a desirable plus, as all aspects of design; cinema, music fashion etc. can impact on trends in visuals.

What do employers look for?

A good creative portfolio, good communication skills (VMs often have to train and coach in store teams), resilience, trend knowledge, and a stable career history.

What can they expect from the job? 

Long hours and broken fingernails. It’s a very demanding role, with lots of working outside of store opening hours, lots of travel and overnight stays, lots of physical work – carrying mannequins around and putting in window displays, for example. It’s rewarding though. It’s great for VM managers to see their vision rolled out across stores.

What are the salary expectations?

Very varied – anything from £30,000 - £50,000.

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