Visualizing Success

The author offers a must-read primer on the rewarding benefits of a visual merchandising lead.

News within families travels fast, and in late 2010, the floral manager at the Cranberry Township, Pa., Giant Eagle learned that her niece, a former employee and interior design graduate, was unhappy with her current job and was interested in coming back to Giant Eagle, where she had worked during high school and college alongside her aunt in the floral department.

After college, the niece landed a job at a commercial interior design firm, where she paid exorbitant health insurance premiums and didn't have access to the proper tools necessary to perform her job. The floral manager, hoping to work with her talented niece again, told the store's owner, my father-in-law, who thought an interior designer would make a good addition to his team. After an initial interview and some further deliberation, the Giant Eagle hired its first visual merchandising lead — a move that helped lift a large burden from the store manager's back.

Without someone dedicated to visual merchandising, promotional opportunities are often lost.

When most people think of career opportunities for interior design graduates, the grocery industry doesn't readily come to mind. Interior designers, however, make excellent visual merchandising leads and help stores take advantage of opportunities otherwise missed, making them more organized, visually appealing places to shop.

Beyond these areas, the addition of a visual merchandising lead has not only added an exciting new dimension to the location, but also further reinforces the many interesting, nontraditional career paths that can be found within a grocery store. Prior to adding the visual merchandising lead — who plans, builds and maintain displays for new products, as well as sale and seasonal items — the job of keeping up with displays fell on the store manager and department managers, who often lacked sufficient time and expertise for proper execution.

In addition to keeping track of sales and promotions, and relating timing needs, the visual merchandising lead helps managers improve responsiveness with on-demand decisions to create displays using crates, barrels or tables and rotating peak-season produce, as well as working directly with vendors to coordinate displays of their own product. She serves as a liaison between departments for cross-merchandising and sampling, which greatly improves the flow between departments while helping to break down the problematic “silo mentality” that otherwise prevents different department heads from working together to see the bigger picture, thereby enabling them to generate higher collective margins.

Consequently, the full spectrum of store displays is enhanced by creativity and organization, in addition to a vast improvement of the critical elements of demand forecasting, replenishment and reduced shrink.

Best of all, the visual merchandising lead is able to fully employ her extensive creative talents, which she frequently notes is her favorite part of the job, alongside being empowered to work to the best of her abilities with the appropriate resources, unlike the scenario she routinely encountered in her previous position.

While displays are a fundamental part of the business, stores often take the easy way out without someone on staff that “owns” the process. Without someone dedicated to visual merchandising, promotional opportunities are often lost. Yet, with a dedicated visual merchandising lead, maximized opportunities are a direct conduit to more successful, savvy, profitable displays. PG

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