Retail Merchandising Jobs - What is a Merchandiser?
Here's an an easy answer to, what is a merchandiser? Have you ever gone shopping at the supermarket or the drugstore, couldn't find you what you were looking for, noticed someone stocking shelves and asked them to assist you only to have that person look at you sheepishly and say, "I'm sorry, I don't work here." Perplexing, isn't it? Well, guess what? You just ran into a merchandiser.
There are all kinds of jobs that fall under the purview of a merchandiser, but the main job is to make sure that the manufacturer's products that you represent are well-stocked and attractively displayed inside the retail store. Usually the merchandiser will have a weekly route and visit the stores they are responsible for servicing at least once a week, but this can fluctuate seasonally depending on what kind of merchandise we are talking about.
For instance, I did magazine merchandising for one company and since magazines are delivered once a week, I planned my rounds to arrive at stores within a day or two of the magazine delivery. For another company I merchandised sunglasses at drugstores, so most of the year I only had to visit each store once a month to neaten & dust the displays, refill product and set out new sunglasses that had been shipped, but as summer heated up, I visited each store at least once a week because they naturally sold a lot more sunglasses in the summertime.
Types of Merchandising Work
Other jobs commonly done by merchandisers are product demos, product training for retail staff and re-sets.
In most cases, anytime you see someone offering food tastings at your local supermarket or Costco, that person actually works for the merchandising company hired by the manufacturer, and not for Costco.
For product training, when a manufacturer is doing a big release of a new product such as a new game console (think Xbox, Playstation 3) or a new cellphone, they'll hire a merchandising company to send representatives to stores like Best Buy and Target to give retail staff an introduction to the product, its features and benefits and how best to sell it. That merchandiser will also be on hand to set up display racks, advertising materials and set the merchandise out on the floor.
Resets tend to be big projects where all of the current stock comes off the shelf, the display fixtures are removed and broken down, and then replaced by new fixtures and possibly new products or a mixture of old and new products. Since Resets are such big jobs, they are usually done by a team of merchandisers who will tackle one store at a time, slowly rolling out the new displays and merchandise to an entire region over a predefined period of time. If you've ever walked into your local supermarket or one of the big box stores like Best Buy and noticed some stuff has been moved to a different location in the store, they've just had a major reset done.
How do you get a job as a merchandiser?
The first thing you should do for merchandising work is sign up at the World Alliance for Retail Excellence (formerly NARMS, National Association for Retail Marketing Services). Signing up there for jop opps is free and all the big companies use them to find merchandisers. Also, if you live in a major urban area with a decent presence on Craig's List, that's a good place to find some merchandising work as well, particularly product demo work which can frequently be one-off assignments.
While Craigslist can be a great place to find both merchandising and mystery shopping jobs, it is also a scammer's paradise so be wary!
Once you create an account, instead of submitting a resume, you just check off what types of job experience you have had -- having some retail experience helps, even if was only working as a cashier 20 years ago. If you don't have much of a retail background, but you have done mystery shopping, be sure to note it in the box where you get to describe your background.
Once your profile is completed, you can browse the job bank or you can simply wait for job opportunities to be sent to your profile. My preference is to just wait for them to send me job opps. They should start arriving within a couple of days of registration. They'll get emailed to you as well as sent to your My Jobs page inside your account so you can just log in and take a look at what is available right on your log-in page.
Just note that these are job opportunities and not job offers. Some recruiters just send out notices to everyone in a particular region regardless of experience level. Once you see something that interests you, just use the "Reply to this Job" feature and be sure to fill in the comments box. If the recruiters interested, they'll either email you or call you. If you actually get a recruiter on the phone, my experience is that you can almost always talk your way into that job even if you don't have a lot of experience.
If you don't have any retail experience at all, it may take you longer to get some job offers, but it is not impossible. In the meantime, try some mystery shopping and then once you've done a couple of shops, log back into your account and add it to your profile.
Apply to anything that looks reasonably easy that also says "Urgent". The merchandise companies have to get someone into these stores to service them on a regular basis and Merchandising is just one of those types of jobs where there are a lot of flakes and people tend to come and go.
High turnover is to your advantage if you don't have much experience yet. As soon as you've secured your first merchandising job, don't forget to add that experience to your profile.
What's it like merchandising for Hallmark Cards?
What's the schedule like?
The schedule varies a lot. With the exception of a couple of types of jobs (such as DVD merchandising which must be done the day DVDs are released, i.e. Tuesdays), merchandising allows for a reasonably flexible schedule. For most of the jobs I did, I had to make a weekly visit, but I decided for myself what day I wanted to do the work. You can work either full time or part time and you'll almost always be an independent contractor. There are some employee opportunities, but most of the jobs are for independent contractors.
The one big thing with merchandising jobs is that virtually all of them must be done on weekdays and you have to be finished servicing the store by 3 or 4pm. You are basically in the customer's way the entire time you are servicing the store, so they want you out of there before the store gets too busy. Weekends are definitely out of the question for most merchandising jobs, so if you are looking to work evenings or weekends, you'll probably want to try something else. The one exception is product demonstrations which are usually done on the weekends because in that situation they want you interacting with as many customers as possible.
How much money can you make as a merchandiser?
The pay for merchandising work varies a lot and some of the biggest companies pay the worst. For example, Hallmark pays barely more than minimum wage for their jobs and I'm pretty sure they don't offer any kind of mileage reimbursement. Oddly, the competition for Hallmark merchandising jobs is huge.
Most companies though will pay anywhere between $8 and $15 an hour and as much as $20 an hour for reset specialists. You'll need to have a decent amount of experience for Reset work, but the jobs are definitely out there. If you stick with this type of work for awhile, there are also supervisory level jobs, although some supervisors have told me that they actually made more money when they were still doing merchandising work directly.
Companies also vary on whether they pay a mileage imbursement or not. If you are doing anything more than a couple of of stores near your own neighborhood, I recommend strongly against taking a merchandising job that doesn't offer any kind of mileage imbursement. You will be doing a lot of driving, so don't work for any cheapskates. Mileage reimbursement is handled either by a flat rate or per mile. My personal preference is actually for flat rate reimbursement because then you can combine a few store visits on the same day and if the flat rate imbursement is $5 because the stores are 40 miles from your house, that's $15 in your pocket, but the wear and tear and mileage of only one trip on your car.
Additional Tips to think about when deciding on jobs to accept
A couple of things to keep in mind when you are considering what offers to accept.
1. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
Make sure you understand the time obligations of a particular route before accepting it. You might only be required to visit the stores on your route once a week or twice a month for an hour this month, but that schedule can change depending on the season or whether there are any major resets or changes to the service agreement in the future.
For example, I started out servicing magazines for 1.5 hours a week in five different stores, but over the course of five weeks, I needed to visit one store each week for a full 8 hours (broken up into two 4-hr visits) in order to roll-out a Reset. Once the reset was complete, the service time obligation for each store increased to three hours a week, effectively doubling my commitment to that route. As a result, I ended up turning down some other merchandising opportunities because I knew I wouldn't have the time to do them, especially since they were about 40 miles in the opposite direction of my regular route. So before you take a job, ask the recruiter if there are any changes to the schedule to expect in the near future.
2. Pay close attention to the geography of your route.
When you first get started, you'll be tempted to take jobs willy-nilly whenever they are offered to you, regardless of where they are located, but you'll work more efficiently if you pick a region and stick to it, that way you can knock off multiple visits each day that you work. So once you commit to your first job, look for other opportunities in the same direction that you'll be traveling. At the same time, think about parking. I live in Boston, but I turned down all jobs in the city because the parking situation is horrible and lots of stores don't even have parking lots. So I worked the 'burbs.
3. Don't be afraid to say no.
When you are offered a merchandising job, it'll almost always be for multiple locations, i.e. a route. If the recruiter wants you to visit five stores, but one of them is off the beaten path from the other four, don't be afraid to say no. If they really need someone NOW, they'll let you go ahead and just do the four, and they'll find someone else to cover that fifth store as part of a different route.
4. Try to plan to work the early part of the week.
You will often find that you have the entire week to make your store visits, but things happen and you don't want to find yourself on Friday frantic to visit five stores before 3pm. If you need to wait until mechandise is actually delivered, try and plan your arrival the day after the delivery, two days at the most. If you go out to the store on the scheduled delivery day, you may find you've wasted the trip because the truck was late. If you wait too long, you may find yourself spending an hour in the receiving area dodging forklifts while you hunt down the merchandise because the Receiving guys don't remember where they put it two days ago.
5. Cheer and count your blessings
on the days that you arrive at the store only to find a sales associate has put everything on the shelves already. You get paid anyway. Just make sure they set everything up correctly before you leave. They don't always follow the plan-o-gram.
6. Know what a plan-o-gram is.
Every recruiter will ask you if you can follow a plan-o-gram. Just say yes. A Plan-o-gram is fancy merchandising language for a diagram. There will be a plan-o-gram for the display rack and for the merchandise to go on the rack. All you have to do is put things exactly where they are pictured on the plan-o-gram. If you've ever put together Ikea furniture, then you can follow a plan--o-gram. In fact, the plan-o-gram is almost always easier to follow than Ikea instructions and usually the parts fit!
7. Jealously guard your display space.
The other part of a merchandisers job is to make sure another company's merchandise doesn't encrouch into your display area. Your company PAYS for that space. Just move all their stuff off your display and ask a sales associate where you can pile it up out of the way. Don't try and track down where it needs to go. They have their own merchandiser for that. If you find out from the store staff that a particular merchandiser hasn't been around in awhile, try and find out what company they work for. If they've flaked, you can probably pick up another job in the same store and that is a very sweet thing.
8. Think about the store environment.
Never mind that you don't officially work for them, some retail establishments are just horrible places to have to spend an hour or two. Walmart, for example, tends of have a horrible reputation on Volition.com as having sales staff and managers that are very unfriendly and unhelpful to merchandisers. Target, on the other hand, has a great reputation and merchandising routes that include Target are considered desirable. If you're a woman, you might also want to keep in mind the environment of the receiving area. The big box stores tend to have receiving staff that aren't exactly customer-friendly and often times this unfriendliness can extend to you, especially if you are a woman and it is an all-male environment. I had one store on my route that I really disliked visiting because the receiving manager was such a weird jerk, so eventually I dropped that store from my route. It just wasn't worth the aggrevation. If you don't like the stores you are visiting, give your company some notice and find another route. There are always jobs available and if you don't flake out, you'll maintain your reputation.
9. Be patient with customers.
Every time I serviced a store, I'd be asked for assistance by customers at least half a dozen times. If I knew where something was located, I helped them out. If I didn't, I just politely explained that I worked for the manufacturer and told them how to find store staff members. Sometimes funny things will happen. One time I was at Lowes servicing magazines and a customer asked me for help. I politely let him know that I didn't work for Home Depot. He looked at me a moment and then said, "Good thing. This is Lowes." Oops!
10. Are you doing Mystery Shopping as well?
The only real similarity between Mystery Shopping and Merchandising is the fact that they both take place in retail environments and you are generally an independent contractor. But lots of people do both types of jobs. Just make sure that you NEVER mystery shop a store where you do merchandising work.