DDi - June 2012 - (Page 18)
18 | Visual Perspectives
Prima donnas need not apply
f you have ever worked in visual merchandising, you have met one, seen one and more than likely worked with one—the visual “prima donna.” They are like comets—briefly bursting into flames through the sky, only to fall to Earth leaving a mess that someone else has to clean up. I imagine you are now concocting the list in your head of those who may have fit this description throughout your career. Perhaps you even made the hire yourself, hoping to find the next Simon Doonan. But, unfortunately, you wound up with an icy body that releases gas (hot air) and dust—just like a comet. Amazing correlation, don’t you think? So, how DO you identify solid visual merchandising talent? Let me break it into some simple buckets: Presentation is everything. How the candidates present themselves to you is everything, and certainly a representation of how they are merchandising themselves as a product to you. From posture to apparel to verbal communication to portfolio, these are all key indicators to understanding their natural predisposition to all things visual and how they apply that to themselves.
A candidate once pulled a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket and proceeded to unfold it to show me a picture of his work. Needless to say—not hired.
Request and expect a portfolio of work. The presentation of their work and their ability to talk about it is invaluable. Even at an entry-level role, a candidate applying for a visual position should have something to show you, even if it is from school. If they come empty-handed, send them away with an assignment that will help them demonstrate their ability and how they present their work. One time, a candidate told me her portfolio was burned in a fire! I hired her with empathy, along with merit and references. It resulted in a major disappointment. Never buy that line—ever! Pretty is as pretty does. Don’t be wowed by smoke and mirrors. If you are a non-creative looking to hire one please know that good visual merchandisers don’t need to have a certain “look.” Quirky clothes, hair and other accessories may be expected, but they aren’t true definers of skill, ability and talent. The proof is in the pudding. Ask to see the work and expect them to be able to talk about it. Have them explain how they developed a concept or idea. Ask them how they were able to sell the idea to the organization. How they speak about their work using the appropriate lingo or retail jargon is also telling. A visual “wannabe” won’t know the language, or how to interpret it if you use it. Left brain or right brain? BOTH! Ask candidates how they see themselves, as more creative or pragmatic? Again, the answer you are looking for is both. Visual merchandisers need to be able to find creative solutions for realistic practical application. In a visual merchandising role, “high creatives” can be high risk in the fast-paced, ever-changing world of retail. Look for the balance, and hire one with both. Practice makes perfect. In my mind, there is really only one way to
become a skilled professional in the visual merchandising trade, and that is through practical experience. You just have to do it. Unless you are set up to train someone in the skill (and that would assume you have the skills to teach it), you will want to find someone with experience. Solid experience, and experience with the types of products you are merchandising. A skilled veteran visual merchandiser will be able to apply visual merchandising principles to a variety of products. However, those with less experience and newbies have limitations, so know you may be signing up to provide a higher level of guidance, direction and pulling in the reigns. Enthusiasm and desire are great attributes, but best when coupled with experience. Monkey see, monkey do. True visual merchandising is much more than implementing a planogram or company-provided schematic. In most instances, these tools are provided to ensure that merchandising initiatives are followed to support key products, programs and the overarching brand— and, more often than not, are implemented by store staff/non-visual merchandisers. A solid visual merchandiser should be able to implement a plan, as well as interpret merchandising initiatives or programs into a retail space. A seasoned visual merchandiser also can create the actual plan, as well as educate others for implementation. A big difference! A rolling store gathers no moss (or tenure). Granted, times are tough these days, and many have experienced layoffs and reorganizations. However, a candidate whose résumé indicates multiple jobs for multiple organizations for shorter periods of time (less than 18 months) should be a red flag—and a possible comet indicator. If you are convinced a candidate has potential, dig deeper as to what was behind the multiple positions, and revisit all of the above. Lastly, I feel fortunate to have had success in finding and hiring good visual talent. In most cases, individuals that choose this career path are fun, funny, tireless and love what they do. My last tip is to always listen to your gut. If all the puzzle pieces seem to connect on paper and in person, but there is something in your gut that just doesn’t feel quite right—take a Tums, and move on to the next candidate. —Ann Fine Patterson, principal of Ann Fine Patterson LLC, is a 20-plus-year career professional in visual merchandising. She shares her insights in this bi-issue column. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of DDi - June 2012
DDi - June 2012
Table of Contents
From the Editor
From the Show Director
Behind the Scenes: Anthropologie windows
Channel Focus: Lifestyle Store
Shopping with Paco
DDi - June 2012