Tuesday, 30 August 2011

How to become a Visual Merchandiser

As a Visual Merchandiser, I am often asked by curious folk how I actually got into this exciting career path. Lots of people message me via my blog or on my twitter account (follow me @tattylittleboot) especially those who are eager to get into the world of Visual Merchandising themselves. I get asked so many questions, I thought why not answer them all in one place? So lets get started!

Do I need a degree?

I am constantly asked this question but in my opinion, for this career a degree isn't a necessity. Sure it looks good on paper, but are degrees really worth that much nowadays anyway? I think they have become too popular - anyone can get one after all (maybe not so much next year...) and so they have lost their value. What is rare, however, is that core work experience. Anyone can read books, research online and sit and be lectured on all things visual but because the role is so 'hands-on' it's the skills we want to see the most. If you have the actual job role under your belt, along with all the management skills you would learn along the way; you could go far in this field - degree or no degree.

Retail guru Mary Portas started her career as a Visual Merchandiser

So how do I get started?

I got started through working in retail from the tender age of sixteen. Not only did I learn all the usual retail work (tills, delivery procedures and stock takes) I learnt about the wonderful side of retail: visual merchandising. This combined with my retail knowledge ensures one thing that some vm's tend to forget, that old cliche: the customer always comes first. At the end of the day we can make things look great, but we are there to sell - to make money. So displays need to be inspiring, shoppable and appealing to your market. I think I would have misplaced the importance of the customer if it wasn't for my employment in retail itself.

But anyone can work in retail. I want to specialise in visual merchandising.

Then do it! It's no good wishing and wanting if you aren't willing to go out there and get the experience you want and need. I got myself involved in every aspect of VM whilst working on the shopfloor; everything from stock merchandising, window displays and mannequin styling. I took photographs of everything I did, afterall it's a 'visual' job so 'visual' evidence is a must have. Whilst I was studying for my A Levels, I seeked out work experience with visual display teams. I wrote letters, emails and telephoned companies until one was willing to take me on. It may take time to get a placement as companies worry about the safety of work experience with visual teams (there's lots of ladder climbing, tool using and all round riskiness of taking on someone ammature). But, if you're willing to give up your free time and they get to gain a free employee - it's a win win situation!

When a department store took me on I was over the moon. I got to experience every VM genre (home, beauty, menswear and ladieswear). Again, I took so many photographs and built a portfolio of anything and everything I did from mannequin styling, window installations, stock merchandising, promotional and events set up - everything!

Christmas is the biggest event of the VM calendar

What if I can't get work experience?

There's always something along the lines of VM you can get involved in. Why not volunteer at a charity shop and get involed in creating exciting window displays or have a go at remerchandising the stock? This would be a challenge what with the mismatch of clothes but atleast it would show on your CV that you're thinking on your feet and your eager to develop your visual skills in regards to future employment.

What else can I do?

I always take photographs whilst I am out and about of anything in the retail world that excites or inspires me and I've built up a hefty portfolio of bits and bobs that I like. Not only does it give you awareness of competitors but it helps to influence your own creative skills and ideas which would be valuable to any future employer.

But where are the jobs?

Most brands have a visual team whether it be a field team or instore team. Instore teams are normally in department stores such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis and Selfridges although Topshop and H&M are known to have instore positions too. They do everything from window displays, mannequin styling and conduct sale and promotional set ups. Field teams belong to brands such as Next, Miss Selfridge and River Island. They travel from one store to the next implementing the latest window displays and advising on merchandise layout. Job sites specific to the retail sector such as Retail Choice and  InRetail advertise popular high street brand vacancies. Or try specific brand career pages on their official websites for more positions.
It is also worth sending out your CV and cover letter to enquire individually to stores as some don't advertise online to cut costs.

What should I take to the interview?

All of your creative evidence - work experience photographs of anything visual merchandising, art work such as things you have made or drawings and paintings. Make sure your presentation is high as this is a visual aspect that will be taken into consideration. Dress to impress - go fashionable and show off your prospective styling skills.

A mannequin will be your new best friend if you want to be a Visual Merchandiser!

I can't wait to make things look pretty!
A huge wake up call to all those that think this is the 'pretty pretty' side of retail - it ain't. It's hardwork! Be prepared to have bruised sore knees from constantly working on the floor; have no nails from using tools, picking off vinyls and breaking them from carting heavy objects such as mannequins around all day; getting hot and sweaty in those windows when the sun is blaring through the glass at you; using lots of cleaning chemicals to keep up those high visual standards; to work toward tight deadlines in a high stress level job. Still interested?

Follow my own career path:

Retail Job > A Level Studies > VM work experience placement > Full time VM job


- Seek work experience during busy periods in the visual diary: January>February = Christmas take down, Spring window/scheme set up, Valentine's Day promotional events, May= Summer windows
August/Sepetember/October = Autumn windows, Christmas set up period
- Do your research about specific brands as the VM role is different between each company
- Speak to VM's instore if you ever see them - ask advice and build contacts
- Be determined; it won't happen over night but you will get there eventually.

Good Luck!

All information given here is in relation to my own experience and knowledge of Visual Merchandising

Image 1 taken from www.mary-portas.com
Image 2 taken from www.stainesguardian.co.uk


  1. I am currently a student studying at the University of Salford, my course is a Foundation Degree specilising in Fashion. I am now in week 10 and I'm beginning to question the course and if it is really for me. With this I have began researching jobs and I have always had in mind Visual Merchandising. Now I am just trying to figure what my best options are, and your post here has been more than helpful:) Thank you so much for taking time post such an inspiring piece.

    1. Tks very much for your post.

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  2. Aw that is fantastic to hear! Have you seen my VM blog www.diaryofavm.blogspot.com Good luck in your job seeking :) xx

  3. Thank you so much for posting this, it has helped me a lot! xxx

  4. hey! this post is very helpful. I'm an interior designer and i just got this job as a VM at a home store and i would reeeaaalllyyy like you to give me some advice. I have no experience at this kind of stuff and i find it a bit difficult. Today i had to organize some shelves with kitchen equipment ( plates, jars, glasses..) and i did awful.. i could really use your advice or some links to help me understand what i am doing wrong. Thanks a lot!!!!

  5. Thankyou so much for posting this entry - been looking online for exactly this, great advice, Thankyou! X

  6. This is really inspiring !! The way your career started out sounds exactly like mine , I'm just hoping it ends like it , and uve inspired me to never ever give up on my goal ! :) x

  7. I have been looking the World Wide Web for this information promotional event company and I want to thank you for this post. It’s not easy to find such perfectly written information on this topic. Great Work!

  8. This is wonderful advice from an experienced VM!
    I'm currently in my final year of my Bachelor degree of Visual Arts, majoring in Graphic Design and a sub-major in Advertising. I'm freaking out basically as to what i should do after I've graduated! Yet, I have found myself toiling with the idea of joining the world of Visual Merchandising. So THANK-YOU for this advice!!

  9. Omg this was so helpful. I have an AA in StudioArt. I will def. heed your advice. I am currently a freelance designer with a year of volunteer exp. with my church's costume & creative arts ministry. I'm praying and using my exp. to open a door in a VM career.;)

  10. haiii,,,im a vm too from Indonesia, i love reading your blog, if you have time please visit my blog aprilianianita.blogspot.com

  11. Visual merchandiser is easy to become, if you are innovative. It needs new ideas in arrangement of products in stores and other stores. Many organisations are there which provide merchandisers.
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  12. I guess im a lil stuck because I started off learning a sales associate ,worked my way up to being a key holder for 2 retail stores and discovered I wanted o only focus on merchandising.I did the whole management and over looking the shipment.I left small stores to go to a big department store and I do stock.merchandise/p.os and markdowns and ive been doing this for 3yrs and some change. Im confused because I don't know whats the next move. My store does have a separate visual team who does mannequins and windows and a few floor sets that I end up helping anyways ,BUT THATS IT .They look bored most of the time and they don't have hands on with the merchandise like I do.I wish I would of took pictures from my others stores but I do have some posted on linkedIN but I don't think there being looked at :(

  13. Thank you so much fo posting this! I've been trying to explain to my mum that going to uni won't necessarily push me further than other candidates going for a VM job! I'm in my last year of A Levels and this is something i really want to do, all teachers are doing is pushing me to go to uni, so thank you for proving that i dont need it!

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  16. Thanks for sharing this! I've been starting to think about my next move in my career and want to aim towards a VM so your tips have been very helpful, thank you :D


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  22. This has really helped me out! Thank you x

  23. If I read this earlier I won't spent so much time on seeking a VM job!
    Thank you so much!!!!! this is really helpful!!!!!

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  26. Thank you so much for writing this, it has been sooo helpful. I got my bachelors in fine arts and majored in fashion design. I graduated 5 years ago and been feeling like my life is at a stand still, I'm currently working and I'm desperately looking for something inspiring fresh and new, that can also give me some financial stability. Though have the visual merchandising experience they're looking for yet, will my portfolio from collage be something that could show how visually creative I can be?

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  29. I worked in retail for four years with Victoria's Secret and had some VM experience there. I briefly attended school for Fashion Merchandising, then got stuck in a clerical job slump for two years. I was miserable. Fortunately I realized that I was denying myself my dreams and was lucky enough to land a VM Supervisor position last week. I'm excited to get started! Great tips!

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