Last week in part one I introduced you to the visual team at Heal’s as they began work on their summer windows and today I’m thrilled to bring you the second instalment of this feature.
It’s my second day at Heal’s and I’m an hour late thanks to the tube strike, but Phil, Tatum and the team are already in full swing. The summer schemes are really coming together now, with the outdoor swing chair in place, the beach hut complete and in the showroom pin wheels and kites that Vicks made with 1810 fabric are going up.
As I watched her put them up with Mike the day before she had clear reservations about their look- in fact she didn’t like them at all and felt they looked a little too homemade. I made the point that I sometimes have reservations about my work, but more often than not others really won’t be critiquing it anywhere near as much she would be and the only thought going through most people’s minds as they passed this window would be “oh, those are a really lovely idea”. She agreed and told me their buzz phrase of choice was “fresh eyes”, meaning “let’s come back tomorrow and look again”. This morning, with more of them up on the walls I can see that they add to the scene in context and really start to bring the look to life.
Phil is busy assembling the pin wheels made from a flexible plastic and screwing them onto the walls on the right hand side and centre. There are a variety of sizes to work with and as I watch he asks my opinion-do we need an extra here? Is 3 enough or should we try 5? (top tip: always group things in odd numbers, they look better that way).
Back in the office over lunch the team explain how important it is to work as a collective, to communicate and bounce ideas around. “It’s good for self assurance”. I ask if they are quite rigid in planning their schemes, but Mike tells me for the most part they have complete artistic license, which gives them the freedom to “dress as you go and don’t over-think it”. Phil chimes in in agreement “spontaneity brings up the best ideas sometimes” and it’s true- it’s far better to just “do” rather than think yourself into doing nothing. From experience, I’m inclined to agree.
I ask if there are any basic rules in the ‘Visual Merchandising 101’ handbook and generally anything goes, although it’s good to keep in mind the pyramid format, with height at the top and heavy, weighted items at the bottom.
The Visual Office or “inner sanctum” as I called it feels like a home from home for me, a reminder from my days working in theatre, where the Stage Management office was always a hive of organised chaos. Mike has recently tidied it, and I believe him. There are stacks of wallpaper from past and current collections, tins of paint, piles of fabric and all sorts of odds and ends to aid the production process- drill bits, clamps, screws, nails and pots of glue. We are gathered around a group of tables in the centre of the room, the radio on in the background and Tatum at the head, checking over her emails and discussing Mike’s to-do list for the rest of the week, checking off and amending them on the white board.
So what’s the best thing about life as a visual merchandiser? Without doubt, being part of a great team, the creative aspect plays a large part, it’s hands on work and each day is different from the last. It’s pretty difficult to be bored here, that’s for sure. The down sides? There are few faults to find, apart from bubble wrapping (Vicks tells me she hates it as I imagine wrapping myself in it and rolling down the corridor) and ‘recovery’ which includes tidying, restocking and continuing on what other team members have left the day before.
Thinking about my occupational bug-bears and having to be constantly on my toes, ready for last minute changes, I ask how they feel about that. “You have to be ready to adapt and embrace change” says Mike, “If you’re not flexible, the job won’t work for you”. I’m told, however, that it’s rare that there are any major last minute changes the team have to take onboard. If there are any it’ll be product related and relatively easy to change out. Later that afternoon, Phil and Tatum discover that there are new lighting plans that will negate the majority of Mike and Vick’s rewiring and focusing the day before.
Back on the shop floor, Phil is asked to put up the decals for the new Ambrose collection which is being launched today in collaboration with the ‘Useful Beautiful’ exhibition at Geffyre Museum ready for the Fall collection arriving in store from August. The new collection has been created with space saving in mind, for those requiring more intelligently designed, multi-purpose furniture. The materials and construction methods are carefully considered to provide affordable pieces without compromising on quality and I can’t wait to get my hands on a piece or two. Heading out onto the street I join Phil and Tess armed with a spirit level and tape measure. With only one decal for each window, Phil has very little room for error and I don’t envy him this task. As they work on finding the centre and placing the sheet ready to be transferred, I catch a witty comment from a passerby “it’s not on straight, mate!” I bet they’d never heard that one before.
Finally, after holding my breath on a few tricky moments, the paper comes away and we can take a step back to view the windows. Perfectly straight.
Over on the left hand side of the window scheme, Mike and Vicks are still working away on the lighting, methodically wiring, cleaning and hanging each fixture. It’s extremely time consuming but the overall effect is stunning. Later on, manager Martin joins them to view the windows from the outside to gauge whether or not some need to be moved.
Now that the look is becoming more uniform, Martin can see a few areas where something is lacking and discusses with Tatum how they might make some changes- with him he carries a sample of striped bowls he feels might break up the blue which is a little too dominant.
Before I leave, I meet one of the store’s buyers as she catches up with Phil. She mentions a new range of cactus candles coming in later in the week that would be perfect for the windows. I wish I could’ve seen the complete, finished look at the end of the week. Cactus candles. Brilliant.
A HUGE thank you to Julia Deutsch for arranging my visit and of course to the visual team for letting me into their world.
What do you think of the Heal’s look for summer and have you been past the store recently?
Which store would you like to see me explore next?