More than making things look pretty
Natalie began her M&S career in 1997 as a Sales Advisor, before becoming a Visual Merchandiser in her home city of Nottingham. After gaining experience with other retailers, she returned to M&S in 2013.
“I heard that M&S were investing heavily in visual merchandising and creating lots of exciting roles – and I haven’t regretted coming ‘home’ for one minute. As Store Visual Manager for our large Cheshire Oaks store, I lead 16 Stylists plus Section Managers and Co-ordinators. In fashion, the secret is to create a style that matches our sophisticated brand and customer profile. It’s really satisfying when your presentation ‘clicks’ with customers and delivers sales results.”
But Natalie’s responsibilities extend beyond fashion to visual presentation across the entire store.
“I love the fast pace of merchandising and the variety of products we sell, from food to plants, bedding to babywear. And if our products are varied, so too is my day. Planning displays, team meetings, store visit walk-arounds, coaching, there’s so much to keep me busy. Blink, and it’s Friday and you can look back on what you achieved during the week. I take photos of everything and at the end of the week we can see how sales have gone and say, ‘that looks fantastic, well done everyone’. I also enjoy living the M&S brand values – inspiration, innovation, integrity and in touch – on a daily basis. In fact, our values were one of the motivating factors in my returning to the fold.”
M&S is such a strong and established brand and there are inevitably guidelines to follow. So does that shackle Natalie’s creativity?
“Not at all. There are plenty of opportunities to be creative by adapting the guidelines to suit your own store and customer types. The guidelines are, at the end of the day, just a guide and I’ve got the freedom to put my own stamp on how they’re interpreted. There’s always the chance to push the boundaries, especially when there are special events such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.”
Natalie has had experience in both a regional visual role and also at head office. Her dream now is to become a Regional Visual Manager and be responsible for a cluster of stores, which she believes will stretch her skills to the full. But she can look back with pride in what she’s achieved so far.
“I think my biggest achievement was being the Team Leader for Menswear when we opened our Wolstanton store. We had some fantastic feedback – I lost count of the number of times someone said our department looked truly inspirational! I’m also proud to say that I’ve mentored and promoted four Trainee Visual Stylists to become fully qualified Section Managers; M&S is big on training.”
So, one final question – does Natalie confine her creativity to work?
“I love interior design and decorating. I’ve recently renovated a cottage and upcycled 90% of my furniture from charity shops and salvage yards. I much prefer to create something unique than buy in mainstream furniture. It gives my home identity and shows my rustic personality!”