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4 Tips for Hiring and Working with a Visual Merchandiser

By Peter Janecky

Hiring and working with a visual merchandiser is an essential part of the success of any specialty retail outlet. Networking, background research, creative collaboration and feedback are four primary steps a retailer should take when hiring and working with a visual merchandiser.

Network First

To begin the process, a specialty retailer should network with other retailers who have worked with these design experts. West Fisher, a visual merchandiser who is the owner and designer at Redbear Fixtures & Displays of San Diego, CA, suggested that retailers turn to other specialty retailers for references for visual merchandisers they have used in the past. Leasing managers at malls also are good contacts, because they have lists of the visual merchandisers “they trust to do the job right. They want it to look as good as you do,” says Fisher.

Brett Beaudette, a visual merchandiser and owner of Ideal Productions & Design of Minneapolis, MN, says “large-box” retailers in malls often have merchandisers on staff that could be tapped for advice or references. Mall developers also have connections with visual merchandisers, and modern technology offers a networking opportunity. “LinkedIn and other social media platforms offer you opportunities to search for merchandisers located in your area,” Beaudette says.

Research Second

Before approaching a visual merchandiser who seems to be a good fit, background research on that person should be conducted. “Merchandising is built on the premise of increasing sales and/or visibility to a product or service,” Beaudette says. “You need to look to hire a merchandiser that embraces this [philosophy].” Beaudette suggested that a merchandiser should have experience creating designs for other retailers who sell the same products or services; and a retailer should get a cost estimate from a prospective merchandiser. “Depending on the size and complexity of the program, a merchandiser should be able to provide you with a realistic value for their time,” he says.

Fisher said a retailer needs to take a look at the merchandiser’s body of work, including designs and finished displays. “You want to be sure that their style is going to mesh well with yours,” he notes. “The best visual merchandisers have a wide variety of styles and can mold themselves to suit just about anything.”

Fisher and Beaudette agreed that retailers should research the rules at the mall where they will do business. “Every mall has different rules, and it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into,” Fisher says. “Many malls have height restrictions, see-through requirements or require a theme.”

Be Collaborative

Once a contract has been established, the project will require creative collaboration between the retailer and the merchandiser. Beaudette says the visual merchandiser should immerse themselves in information about the retailer’s product or service; and retailers need to share their vision for the finished product with the merchandiser. “Remember, the more information you share with them on your vision and strategy, the better choices they will be able to make to have your vision come to life,” Beaudette asserts. Fisher agrees that projects work best when the retailer provides as much direction and detail as possible for the merchandiser. “Be descriptive and don’t be afraid to talk about the project’s details,” Fisher advises. “We won’t be telling anyone anything. We know secrecy is important on some projects, and we wouldn’t violate that trust.”

Visual merchandisers also are happy to see a retailer with a specific budget in mind for the project. “If you tell me what you want to spend, I will design you something inside those parameters,” Fisher says. “I also won’t cut any corners just because I know the budget. I want it to look amazing for my portfolio, so I will get the most I can out of your budget.”

Offer Feedback

Once an initial design is completed, Fisher and Beaudette agree that the retailer must be as honest as possible with their critique. Fisher says the best way for honest feedback to take place is for the retailer and the merchandiser to meet in person to review the design. Beaudette added that retailers should feel free to speak up about any negative reactions they have to an initial design. “I have always said that if you and I agree on everything, one of us is useless,” Beaudette notes. “Professional merchandisers do not take this personally. They look at it as a collaborative effort of expertise with buyers, owners and staff to achieve the greatest end results—sales.”

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