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Love making things attractive? Become a display designer

Last updated on: December 13, 2012 14:32 IST

Love making things attractive? Become a display designer

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Karinna Nobbs, Careers360

Eye-catching displays always grab a shopper's attention. The Indian retail industry is now recognising the visual merchandiser's role in attracting customers.

Visual Merchandising, an upcoming profession in India, is all about presenting the merchandises inside stores, more strategically.

The ultimate aim is to enhance the sales of the store.

How do professional  visual merchandisers (VMs) do this and what is the career scope in India?

Karinna Nobbs, a seasoned visual merchandiser with many years of experience at Benetton and other top brands, talks about the profession and its scope in India.

What is this function all about?

Visual Merchandising is about making the product look as desirable as possible in the eyes of the consumer, in order to encourage them to purchase.

Research shows that consumers use VM to understand whether a brand fits in with their personal lifestyle, even whether or not to even enter a store, based on the exteriors and interiors!

What is a VM's exact job role?

Generally, the role of a VM is centred around three main areas -- display (window and interior), stock placement (shop floor fixtures) and retail standards (staff training).

However, the exact job function of a VM would differ from brand to brand depending on a number of factors.

This could include 'format' of retailer, that is, is it an independent store, multiple or department store? Its position in the marketplace (value, middle rung, luxury) and the category of products being sold (men's, women's, home decor etc).  Is innovation a must for success?

Increasingly consumers look for sensory experiences in-store, and retailers are using music, smell and lighting to create a positive and pleasing environment so that the consumer stays in the store for as long as possible.

I would also argue that in today's globally competitive and dynamic retail environment, particularly with the advancement of e-commerce, the image of the store is an important and under utilised tool for competitive advantage and differentiation.

The author, Karinna Nobbs is a lecturer of Fashion Branding and Retail Strategy at London College of Fashion.

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Image: A visual merchandiser adds the finishing touches to a display at Shoppers Stop at MGF - Metropolitan Mall, New Delhi
Photographs: Courtesy Careers360

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'There will be more jobs in the next two-three years'

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Here, Shammi Raghuvanshi, Unit VM Head, Shoppers Stop (Saket) talks about the scope of career in India. He holds a PG Diploma in Fashion retail from Pearl Academy.

Responsible for compelling presentation of merchandise to engage customers and help in stimulating sales.

The job role includes visual and window displays, Inventory Management, Vendor Management and training the staff to support merchandising activity.

In India, is it the right time to get into this profession?

When I started in VM in 1997 in the United Kingdom there were very few jobs. But now it is a hugely important and still growing part of the retail industry.

And from my observations and visits around many cities in India, I feel that now is the beginning of the growth of the visual merchandising industry in India.

India has a wide variety of domestic and international brands operating very successfully and both of those types of retailer require VM people.

At the moment there are not many jobs in the VM field advertised in India but I predict that it will increase over the next two to three years. 

In the United Kingdom, most city centre stores have a VM team dedicated to that store specifically and displays and stock is moved around on a weekly basis.

Furthermore, there has been a growth in the last year of online VM positions (for retailer e-commerce sites) which is a really interesting and exciting development.


Image: Shammi says he loves experimenting with visual and window displays
Photographs: Courtesy Careers360

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Put your creative imagination to good use

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How did you get a break?

I started my career as a VM by working as a shop assistant in a United Colours of Benetton store. In this store it was the manager who normally changed the windows and they were given direction by the Head Office in Italy.

I asked the manager one day if I could be trained to do the window and she said there is no training -- just try and make it look like the pictures from Head Office.

So I started by copying the images but then I asked if I could try out new techniques and methods of display and the manager agreed as long as it was still in line with the United Colours of Benetton brand image.

I studied art at school and would describe myself as creative so I was able to bring these skills to the role.

What were your responsibilities as you progressed?

When I worked for Kookai, a French premium high street brand as a regional VM, the position involved going to the Head Office in London for briefings and training on a three-month basis.

I was in charge of five stores-- I'd change the window displays and interior displays every week and advice the store managers on the stock placement within the store.

Later, as an independent VM professional, when working with boutiques, the job role was very different from a client such as Ralph Lauren.

How was it different?

For boutiques, I developed complete creative VM schemes including a concept, sourcing props, and then creating and maintaining the displays.

For Ralph Lauren, it was more prescriptive in terms of creativity as I was given guidelines for the window displays which were changed very infrequently (four weeks) but I was allowed to change the interior mannequins on a weekly basis.

Now, I am very rarely in the window styling mannequins and I miss that as it is very rewarding especially when a customer says, "I saw that in the window and I want to buy it."


Image: Students at Pearl Academy create attractive displays for a range of products
Photographs: Courtesy Careers360

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'You must be able to spot fashion trends and keep the customer in mind when designing'

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What are the skills and attributes to be a successful VM?

You need to have a visual eye, therefore you need to be creative and it helps to be interested in art, especially if you are going to be designing displays.

For fashion roles, it is important to be able to spot fashion trends as you need to be able to interpret how to style products on mannequins so that they reflect and/or are aspirational for the target customer. It is often quite a physical role as you need to dismantle and assemble props and mannequins.

I also did short courses in carpentry and electrics as if you are creating or building props or amending lighting you need to be comfortable with tools like drills etc.

You also need to have good communication skills as you need to liaise with head office and store managers about what stock you are going to feature in a display and sometimes this is a lengthy process as each has their own point of view.

Do I need to do a design programme to be a VM?

There are a number of options as it is a young field. You can undertake a fashion marketing or retailing programme. Alternatively, you could study design (product or interior) or architecture.  Increasingly there are new programmes being developed which focus exactly on VM.

For example, we have a BA (Honours) Retail Branding and Visual Merchandising course which is hugely popular. I know that Pearl Academy are looking to increasing their offering in this field too.

The advice I would give to anyone wanting to get into the sector is to get experience with a variety of brands. So go into a store and ask to speak to manager to see if you can do an internship and shadow the in-house VM team.

How does one go about seeking a VM's job?

The best place to look for VM jobs is on the vacancies section of the main website of retailer brands. Also there are some specialised recruitment agencies which only look after retail jobs and they are a good place to start too.

I would recommend speaking or writing to the store manager or area manager to ask about current vacancies and potential work experience.


Image: Image for representational purposes only
Photographs: Rohit Gautam/Careers360

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