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Want to become visual merchandiser?

The job involves doing up the window display, the merchandise inside the store , the colours to be used to attract customers to make that all-important purchase, says Vandana Ramnani.

education Updated: Jun 23, 2010 10:08 IST
Vandana Ramnani

The window of a major clothesline store glows green not with envy but with golf grass. It has everything — iron, tee, a cart, balls strewn around and even caddies dressed in green. Two curious onlookers move into the store where a golf match is in progress — or so it seems. These serious window shoppers pick up two T-shirts for Rs 1999 each and a green rucksack for Rs 2000 and walk up to the cash counter. The happiest person in the store is obviously the visual merchandiser.

Meet Rinki Parikh, 26, who works as head visual merchandiser with the super luxury brand Armani. She holds a degree in fashion communication from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). When she graduated in 2007, she was sure that she did not want to become another fashion or an accessory designer. It had to be something different. And, she was confident that there would be immense opportunities in the retail trade for her, thanks to the innumerable malls mushrooming across the country, not to mention a host of international luxury brands inundating the market. And, she was not wrong. The international brand Guess lapped her up soon after she graduated as a visual merchandiser following which she moved to Armani.

The greatest challenge of her job, she says, is to ensure that a four-month-old product looks as good as new on the shelf. “A visual merchandiser’s job is to dress the store window through mannequins and props and do up the store and display the merchandise through concepts and stories. My job is to turn window shoppers into stoppers and eventually push sales,” she says.

The job involves doing up the window display, the merchandise inside the store — what product needs to be displayed, where and with what fixtures, the colours to be used to attract customers to make that all-important purchase. A VM has to identify a slow moving product and decide how it needs to be given prominence (whether it needs to be matched with colours or be lit up in a particular manner) to attract sales. Every fixture in the store has to be a representative of the brand. A VM is expected to do up certain moods — a casual story, a business format, a sports event and even a fashion evening — all packed into the window and eventually the store. The idea is to create excitement for the brand being represented. A VM also gets to spend a lot of time inside the store — training staff on how to fold and clothes, teach them how to follow manuals and merchandise that needs to go on the racks. A VM is also a bridge between the design and the marketing department.

A visual merchandiser working with an international brand does not have the liberty to design a window. The step-by-step installation guide is sent to him or her to be put up as per specifications. There is a set format to be followed. However, a VM working with a domestic brand can use his or her creativity to design a window, suggest a theme and let it run through the entire store. So, while an international brand can limit its theme to Christmas or soccer, a domestic brand can do up a store with the local flavour of Onam, Durga Puja and even cricket. “For us, the window needs to have a uniform theme around the world. The window in Italy should be the same as in India,” says Parikh.

Visual merchandising provides an interactive retail experience. A VM needs to have a strong sense of colour, fashion and perspective. It’s a science that blends fashion, architecture and even interior design, so one needs to be clued on to the happenings in these different verticals.

He or she should be able to create a mood and make the brand make a statement. Last but not least, a VM’s visual treat should be able to compel window shoppers to loosen their purse strings, even buy the bag launched four-months ago!

What’s it about?
Visual merchandising is the art of displaying merchandise in a store to attract customers and increase sales. Thanks to innumerable malls mushrooming across the country, opportunities in this field are immense. Passion for design and creativity are essential to become a visual merchandiser. A VM takes care of the window display — representing a seasonal theme with the help of mannequins and the inside of the store — the arrangement of merchandise according to concepts and stories. The idea is to get the customer excited by the brand and increase the walk-ins. A VM also spends a lot of time training the store staff on how to fold and hang merchandise, follow instruction manuals and advise them on what pieces should go on the rack and be displayed on the floor, the colour scheme etc. He also has to take a call on slow moving merchandise and make sure it gets prominence through better lighting and display

Clock Work
9 am: Reach office
10 am: Check e-mails and spend time on creatives for upcoming windows
11 am: Spend time with the design department; understand the forthcoming collection
1 pm: Break for lunch
3 pm: Rush for inter-department meeting
3.30 pm: Visit a company store; check out which collection is doing well and decide on what should be displayed prominently etc
6 pm to 8 pm: Spend time in the market; visit stores of competition and check out their displays; analyse their windows to implement ideas in the future

The Payoff
. An assistant visual merchandiser, a fresher from a reputed institute, can earn between Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 a month
. A manager can earn Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 a month after five to six years of experience
. A head visual merchandiser can expect a remuneration of Rs one lakh a month after 10 years of experience

Skills
. Artistic sensibility and creativity
. Sense of perspective, lighting, colour etc
. Eye for detail
. Ability to blend fashion design, interior design, architecture and even music

Institutes & urls
. National Institute of Fashion Technology NIFT campus, Hauz Khas, Near Gulmohar Park, New Delhi 110016
http://www.nift.ac.in/
. J D Institute of Fashion Technology Hauz Khas New Delhi
http://jdinstitute.in/visual_merchandising.html
. Pearl school of fashion A-21/13, Naraina Industrial Area- Phase II, New Delhi, 110028
http://www.pearlacademy.com/academics-details.php?mode=academics&part=pgprogramm&part2=pfr

How do i get there?
One could pursue a fashion communication course with a specialisation in visual merchandising at any of the design institutes in the country

Pros & Cons


.

One gets to know about how brands and the competition works


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One gets to travel a lot


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A visual merchandiser is the creative mind behind the store


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One cannot make changes on the floor during operational hours. These need to be done either late in the night or early morning before the store opens. The


early or late hours could be an issue for some

VM Has a promising future

A fashion communication expert advises those desirous of pursuing visual merchandising as a career

Is there a special course for visual merchandising?
No, there is no separate course. Visual merchandising is an integral component of a four-year Bachelor’s programme in design, namely fashion communication. Students are exposed to academic deliverance in the domain of visual merchandising in the last five semesters. Other components of the course include photography, fashion journalism, graphic design, advertising, styling amongst others.

Your advice to youngsters wanting to take up this course.
With a plethora of multi- brand outlets opening in the country, there are immense opportunities for students in this field. Alumni from the department are employed as visual merchandisers with both domestic and international brands. It has a rather promising future.

What are the skill sets one needs to become a visual merchandiser?
Young enthusiasts desirous of becoming visual merchandisers need to have an eye for detail, be aware of design and colour ethics and have an understanding of 3D perspective. A visual merchandiser is responsible for creating a VM calendar for each month to look into the mechanics of treating window displays in accordance with trends for the season.

Vijay Dua Interviewed by Vandana Ramnani