Case study

Visual merchandiser — Stephanie

Building up her visual merchandising skills on the shop floor, Stephanie's experience has taken her career in new directions

During summer and Christmas breaks from my printed textiles and surface pattern design degree course at Leeds College of Art, I worked in a high street fashion store as a sales assistant. I wanted to get involved with the visual merchandising, so I asked if I could start helping out with the in-store displays.

The creative flair, fashion and colour knowledge needed for this was really enhanced by my degree. I was offered the opportunity to help with the regional visual display team who install all of the store window displays across the area. I did this for six months, and after I had graduated in 2010, I applied for a creative and visual merchandising assistant role at a flagship store on Oxford Street, London.

As a visual merchandiser, the start of my day would involve looking at the previous day's 'bestsellers' and what stock hadn't performed well. Also, I would look at what other factors could be involved to help increase or decrease sales, for example the weather or if it was school holidays, as this would help me to decide which products to display and where. Based on these factors, I would then create new and innovative window and mannequin concepts daily. This constantly kept the store looking fresh and drew the customers in.

After one year I had built up enough skills, contacts and reputation to transfer my abilities to my current role as photo stylist/creative assistant for Biglight, an ecommerce company specialising in retail. This has allowed me to take my interest in working with fashion to a different level, while still employing the techniques I learned in visual merchandising. Now I'm dressing models, not mannequins.

I think that every company would encourage development in visual merchandising differently, but that progression is definitely possible if you work hard, have determination and a willingness to 'go the extra mile' for the company.

What I loved about visual merchandising was the creative challenge of the role: making a visual impact that caused customers to walk into a store and be 'wowed'. It was a lot of physical and fast-paced hard work, but the satisfaction of dismantling a window or a display and replacing it with a whole new concept based on fashion's 'next big thing' was a real thrill. I got immense satisfaction by seeing products come to life within a display and had a great sense of achievement when underperforming products started to sell as a result.

I would advise anyone thinking about visual merchandising as a career to be prepared to work long hours. And you don't start on a brilliant salary, but stick with it. It's a job with great rewards if you're interested in fashion or design, but looking for a creative outlet too.