Careers In Art: Nicky Merkel

Term: 3 Year: 2008

Visual Merchandising

Nicky is a visual merchandiser who has enjoyed a career with Myer -specialising in homewares, and with the Tie-Rack.

When you were growing up what did you want to become?
A Designer or a Photographer. I wanted to create. I have always loved Interior Design. I think that’s why Homewares became my passion in Visual Merchandising.

How long have you been in the industry?
3 years. I had been in retail and merchandising without the title for about 7 years before that.

What does a visual merchandiser do?
We make you want to buy something! Visual merchandising is the practice of displaying a product (Eg: a Dress, a Dinner set or a couch) to entice the customer to take a closer look, desire it and buy it.

What did you study at school and university?
BA of Fine Art (Photography Major)
Diploma of Visual Merchandising

Any career highlights?
I always enjoyed setting up a new store. There was an excitement from the team of creating something new.

Are there any peers that set the benchmark for you and for the industry?
Other stores are the benchmark. This is a very competitive industry. The bottom line is if you don’t make the customer want to buy your product, then it will not sell and the company will not make money. Large chain stores like Country Road, Freedom, Myer and David Jones are always vying for the consumers attention and reinventing themselves to bring the consumer in (Eg: Window displays). Smaller trend setting stores often catch your attention by going out on a limb. What other stores are doing, locally and overseas is a constant source of inspiration.

How do we compare to the rest of the world?
Visual Merchandising is very similar to the Fashion Industry. They feed off one another as Visual Merchandising creates the environment for Fashion to look its best. Therefore Visual Merchandising in Australia does follow the fashion trends and VM trends of Europe and America.

How does the workplace affect your work and, how you work?
I would usually get to work before the store opens. This is usually the time when I can get things done that are too dangerous to do with customers around. When the store is open you are more conscious of the customers. You can be interrupted by customers directly (asking questions) or indirectly (customers being in an area where you are trying to work) this is all part of the job as in the end the customer is the one you are trying to impress.

What is a day in the life of Nicole like?
I would usually check over my department to make sure all displays were in place and clean. After that, there would be any number of duties to perform. Setting up new displays. Swapping department areas around to display a new product or create new areas for seasonal displays (Eg: Christmas). We also had to set up and pull down sale set ups (this is usually done before the store opens).

What is the difference between art and design – how have you embraced them into your work?
Design is about function and form. These tools help you portray your message to the public. Art also displays a message to the viewer, though the Artist is usually trying to portray a deeper meaning. Both Art and Design depend on certain visual elements that are already in the public conscious. VM must also use symbolism, colour and shape to communicate and entice the public.

What are some of the negative aspects of your job?
Visual Merchandising is a very physical job, especially in Homewares and Furniture. Moving furniture and fixtures can be taxing on the body (and those mannequins you see aren’t very light). Also setting up for stocktake sale on Christmas Eve isn’t that much fun.

Define team work for a Visual Merchandising.
Visual Merchandisers work together physically and creatively. Some jobs physically need more than one person to complete, and this is also beneficial as you can bounce ideas off one another.

Where do you get most of your inspiration?
Fashion and Interior design magazines. Movies, music videos and television. Fashion revolves around pop culture. Different movements (art and architectural) in history also inspire.

Who would you most like to sit next to on a flight to Europe?
My husband. He has a good shoulder to sleep on.

If you were speaking to a secondary school student who was showing interest in following in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?
Be passionate about fashion trends. Explore Art and Fashion history as these will help you in identifying the right style for the product. This will also give you the creative rules and teach you how you can bend them to your needs. VM is a varied career. From shop display to exhibition display, styling (photographic and fashion), it is challenging, always evolving and fun. Go for it!

Nicky’s great eye and passion for design has now led her to make the switch to graphics - recently joining Zart Art as a graphic artist.

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