Visual Merchandiser

The Job and What's Involved

As a visual merchandiser, display designer or window dresser, it would be your job to create eye-catching product displays in shops and stores.

You would be responsible for presenting products in a way that attracts customers and maximises sales. This could mean anything from decorating a store in a seasonal theme – such as Christmas or spring sales – to making sure your store's displays fit the company's brand image.

Your day-to-day tasks might include:

  • Designing ideas for displays, or following a company design plan.
  • Creating special displays to promote a specific product or promotion.
  • Drawing designs and plans by hand or computer.
  • Deciding how to use space and lighting creatively.
  • Creating branded visual merchandising packs to send to each branch of a store.
  • Giving feedback to head office and buying teams.
  • Setting up displays, dressing dummies, and arranging screens, fabric and posters.
  • Hiring, borrowing or making props.
  • Making sure that prices and other necessary details are visible.
  • Coaching sales staff on how goods should be displayed.
  • Taking down old displays.

In a large retail company, you would work as part of a display team and follow design plans that were created at head office by a visual merchandising manager or senior display designer.

In a full-time job you would work 37 to 40 hours a week, often including late evenings to set up displays when stores are closed. Part-time work may be available.

Putting up displays would mean spending a lot of time on your feet, lifting, carrying and climbing ladders. Working in shop windows can be hot and cramped.

You could be based at head office or in store. In jobs with chain stores, you might travel to different branches to set up displays and brief sales staff.

Starting salaries can be from £12,000 to £16,000 a year.
With experience, earnings can rise to around £20,000 a year.

Visual merchandising managers or designers can earn between £25,000 and £45,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Most visual merchandising jobs are in fashion and homeware departments and stores. You can also find some opportunities for display work at museums and tourist attractions, airports and hotels.

Jobs may be advertised in the local and national press, design or retail trade magazines, and on retail jobs websites.

Education and Training

You would normally take one of two main routes to becoming a visual merchandiser or display designer. You could come from a background in design, or you could work your way up through the retail industry.

If you choose to train in design first, you may have an advantage by taking a specialised qualification in display or merchandising, such as:

  • A degree in Exhibition and Retail Design
  • A Foundation Degree in Display Design or Visual Merchandising.

Other useful courses include BTEC HND's, foundation degrees and degrees in interior design, fashion marketing, retail management or visual communications. You should check exact entry requirements with colleges or universities.

Alternatively, you could take qualifications from the British Display Society (BDS) before you look for work. The following courses are available at a small number of colleges:

  • Technician Course in Display
  • General Certificate in Display (one year full-time)
  • National Diplomas in Point of Sale Design or Retail Display Design (two years full-time)

The BDS has also introduced a new online course, the BDS Distance Learning Certificate in Display and Visual Merchandising. You can find out more about this on their website.

You may not need qualifications in display design if you have a strong retail background, or experience in related areas like interior design or photography.

You may be able to get into the retail industry through an Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You will usually develop your skills on the job. Large retail companies often have in-house structured training programmes for their display staff.

If you are on a retail Apprenticeship, you may be able to work towards a Certificate or Diploma in Retail Skills (Visual Merchandising) as part of your work-based training. The qualifications are awarded by bodies including ABC Awards, City & Guilds, Edexcel and OCR, and may be available at local colleges and National Retail Skills Academy training centres.

You may also be able to study for British Display Society (BDS) qualifications whilst you are working. See the BDS website for more information.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A visual merchandiser needs:

  • A good sense of design, colour and style.
  • Creativity and imagination.
  • Good IT skills, for computer-aided design work.
  • A high level of attention to detail.
  • The ability to work to deadlines.
  • Good communication skills.
  • Practical skills, such as carpentry and needlework.
  • The ability to work well as part of a team and also alone.
  • Stamina and fitness.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, you could progress to display team leader then visual merchandising manager.

Alternatively, you could move into retail merchandising, or into exhibition or interior design.

You could also work as a freelance display designer, creating one-off displays for clients.

Get Further Information

British Display Society
Tel: 020 8856 2030
Website: www.britishdisplaysociety.co.uk

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