Eyeing up the competition

With many candidates gunning for senior visual merchandising roles, retailers can afford to be exacting about their requirements.

Viewed as one of the most glamorous functions of the fashion business, roles in visual merchandising are in high demand. This creates what Diane Wilkinson, division manager for retail at Fashion & Retail Personnel, describes as a "candidate-rich" scenario for any potential recruiter.

One senior recruiter for a premium retailer says: "We get so many CV s that when it comes to heads of visual merchandising we are quite brutal. They've got to have international experience, experience of managing a team and have worked with a comparable brand."

Accessories and handbag retailer Radley receives a "steady flow of speculative applications" for visual merchandising roles through its website, according to its recruitment manager Leanne Murphy. She adds: "We are in a fortunate position that we have a lot of professionals interested in joining us."

With roles so competitive, it is no surprise that salaries are lower than in other sectors. Junior visual merchandisers based outside of London earn an average of £16,188 and a head of visual merchandising in London is paid on average £44,441, so it is a career path that is followed for passion rather than earning potential. That said, those in this sector can receive benefits such as a good staff discount, a company car, mobile and laptop.

Most companies recruit for the senior roles externally and promote from within for the more junior levels. Donna Ida, owner of the eponymous women's denim indie, says both her visual merchandising staff were recruited and promoted internally: "By promoting within you retain the staff, incentivise them and stimulate them all at the same time."

Head of visual merchandising Jo Pratten started at Donna Ida as assistant manager at its Westfield London store in 2008. "She would constantly be tweaking the rails and was good at executing the window ideas I had," explains Ida. Displaying such talent meant that within two years Pratten was appointed to her current role.

However, Ann Summers people services manager Julie Rickford says the retailer finds it tough to attract staff due to its head office location: "A huge disadvantage for us is we can miss out on talent who cannot commute to us in Whyteleafe [in Surrey] or those who enjoy the buzz and atmosphere of working in London."