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DDI Magazine

Visual Perspectives

By Ann Fine Patterson
January 07, 2013

As a kid growing up, it seemed to take forever for Christmas to
arrive. With the dishes barely cleared from the Thanksgiving table, the Christmas countdown began. Perhaps, it was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade with Santa as the closer to kick off the forthcoming shopping season. From that day forward, I counted each and every day, waiting impatiently until Christmas finally arrived—as it always did.

I miss those days.

Today, it happens in what seems like a snap! We visual types scurry frantically as the calendar eeks into September, making sure our holiday installation plan is tightly buttoned up and ready to go. A year’s worth of planning (maybe more) ends with a burst of activity taking place in a short window of time to prepare the stores for shoppers’ holiday enjoyment (or, as truly intended, a holiday spending spree). Then, before you know it, the festivities are over, and it’s time to clean up.

Enter the visual custodian.

I like the term “custodian”—it sounds important. The guardian of all things visual, right? No, wait, not that type of custodian. I’m talking about one that cleans things up. In a prior column, I wrote about the various roles of a visual merchandiser, and I must have forgotten to mention this one, slightly less glamorous, part of the job.

Someone puts it all up, and someone has to take it all down, pick it up, pack it up and move it out.
Whether you keep it for next year or pass it on, the visual custodian is on task again to coordinate the post-party cleanup. Holiday decorations are the obvious starting point, but once the bells, balls and bows are boxed, the visual custodian has yet more work to do.

While January and February are major clearance and inventory times for retail stores, this lean product time period allows the visual custodian to focus on the support structure of his or her work—the store interior. This is the time of year that visual merchandisers are taking note of what is needed to keep the store looking fresh and working its best—making sure fixtures are in good working order, checking for needed maintenance, repair or replacement. They’re checking perimeter merchandising systems, walls and ceilings to ensure reliable systems and hardware, along with fresh looking walls and lids—yes, that may mean paint! The visual custodian works in partnership with retail operations/store development teams in oversight and coordination of general store maintenance. After all, visual merchandising is “what you see,” and that includes fixtures, sign holders, walls, paint and more.

Ensuring the store merchandising infrastructure is in good condition makes day-to-day merchandising run smoothly. An annual review of fixtures and systems allows for budgeting, planning and coordination to ensure you are poised for the next holiday season. (Gee, didn’t we just clean up the last one?)

And lastly, my favorite—the bathroom. Lots of people don’t care or even think about looking at the bathrooms, but tons of people go there. It is a part of the customer experience after all, and what it looks like does matter. Not that the visual custodian would actually clean it. We would call a real custodian for that!

Ann Fine Patterson, principal of Ann Fine Patterson LLC, is a 20-plus-year career professional in visual merchandising. She shares her insights in this bi-issue column. Email her at