Seminar report: Turning VM from a creative to a commercial job

The best visual merchandisers will come to regard their role as an increasingly financially-minded one, according to Aoife Blicher, head of VM retail at Magasin du Nord – the Danish chain of department stores.

Speaking to attendees at Retail Design Expo Blicher – who has 25 years’ experience in VM – said: “VM is, and rightly so, moving from a creative to a commercial role.”

Speaking of her relocation from the central marketing department to being located in its six flagship stores, she explained how she’s instilled a much more business-focused attitude into the VM team.

She said: “Prior to this, we weren’t in the best of shape. Each store had its own VM team, hiring who they wanted; and as a result we had very a different look and feel. Since 2010, when VM team was aligned more closely to stores, we’ve been on a process to tie all our department stores much closer together.”

This process has included everything from re-writing recruitment guidelines so that HR hires visual merchandisers with the same attitude and vision; aligning elements of the physical store to the design of its online presence for a more seamless real:web experience; briefing merchandisers more regularly on the strategy of the store for that year; ensuring the team sit with the senior leadership; and giving staff their own ‘must win’ goal for that year – where they have to take a particular challenge on, solve it and report its success.

“More recently, we’ve spent the last three years training our VM staff in business acumen,” she explained. “This is updated every six months, and it includes showing them our detailed financials, including the sales targets for each area of the store, as well as from each brand. To go with this we’ve also provided presentation training, because if we’re going to give them more of a business-focused mind, they need to be able to confidently stand up and present what they are going to do to make their contribution visible.”

As well as ensuring the stores become more aligned (Blicher says she wants Magasin du Nord to become one of the leading department stores in Europe), the change is all about bringing in more customers and bottom line profit. “An extra 5p of spend on every transaction would see an extra £5.5 million per year on the bottom line, she said, and that’s the sort of language the VM team now speak.

Has it paid off? According to Bliche, the results are all in the numbers. Rather than an extra 5p, she has actually moved average spend from £29 to £31 in the last six years, and in the same time loyal customers have nearly doubled from 22% of their customers to 47% of them. “We’re turning VM from nice to have to need to have,” she said.