Steven Dempsey, 31, is a visual merchandising manager for Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square, London.
What do you actually do?
I run a team of 25 people, creating window displays to attract customers into the shop. The head office issues a brief, and we design displays around that. We do themed displays for Christmas, Easter and so on – we've just done a bridal display with a mannequin on a giant Perspex staircase. I try to make everything aesthetically pleasing, but it's not just about decorating things. We also help customers to find products, using signs and table displays. Promotional sites are always in the same place, so people know where to look, and we place bestselling products at the front. The idea is to make it easy for people to buy what they want as quickly as possible.
What's your work schedule like?
My working hours are 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Weekends are about selling, so you can't be painting or putting up signs on a Saturday. I start by walking through the store, to see if anything has broken or fallen down. Then I meet my team and dish out jobs for the day. It's a really physical job – you spend a lot of time up ladders and changing mannequins, and you get strong muscles from hammering things together. At Peter Jones, we have 150m of window space, which we change regularly. It takes two days to change a window – one day to strip out the old display, the following day to put in a new one. In the afternoon we have planning meetings, to discuss our design ideas and how best to promote new products.
What do you love about it?
It's very rewarding, because I get to see all my hard work on display in the shop window on the King's Road. We work very closely as a team, which is lovely as you get praise and thanks from your colleagues. There's almost instant job satisfaction, because you can make a display look amazing if you've put effort into designing it. In December, for example, I'd see our display of Christmas lights twinkling in the darkness as I came into work each morning, and it kept me smiling all day. What's not so great about it? You have to be prepared to take criticism. Window dressing is obviously a visual medium, so everyone has different preferences and tastes, and sometimes people can be negative about your ideas. You have to try not to take it personally – there's no point in doing something that the senior managers don't like, for example. You have to be self-critical and look at your work through other people's eyes.
What skills do you need to do the job well?
You don't have to be artistic, but you do need to be imaginative and passionate. We often build a display around colour, so you need to be good at choosing colours and understanding how they go together. You should be upbeat and positive– it's a creative environment, so some of the people you work with can be temperamental. You have to be open to ideas from the company you're working for. It's not just about your personal preferences. Finally, you need to be fairly fit, as you'll be lugging lots of heavy things around.
What advice would you give someone with their eye on your job?
You need retail experience, and you need to love fashion and home design. But you've also got to decide if you want to work in a shop. If you just want to do the job because you like designing pretty things, it's not for you. You need to be aware of how your displays will affect sales. You can do work experience with a visual-merchandising manager, and there are courses in visual merchandising. But it's mainly on-the-job learning.
What's the salary and career path like?
When you're starting out, you'll probably earn about the same as a shop assistant – from £12,000 to £14,000 a year. As an assistant section manager, you could earn £20,000 a year. A visual merchandising manager earns about £30,000 plus. You could move into a head-office role, designing corporate initiatives.