Confessions of a visual merchandiser
This visual merchandiser even combs their hair, and tells them to be good and to sell clothes well
If you have a fear of dolls or phobia of human-size figures, you'd better steer clear of this career.
Miss Emily Huang's job as a visual merchandiser requires handling, dressing and hanging out with mannequins. The 33-year-old is responsible for the way clothes are arranged and displayed in the store.
The goal? To entice customers to buy.
And while she may be familiar with mannequins, she has had a fright from them more than once, confesses the employee of Taiwanese clothing company iRoo, which has four stores here and more than 80 outlets in Taiwan.
"In our Ngee Ann City branch, there are about 15 mannequins. When I go home late after a window change, I do get shocked when I accidentally bump into them," says the amicable woman, who was recently promoted to the chief operations officer for the company's Singapore arm.
It gets creepy as the window changes happen after hours in shopping malls, and there is often little light at the time.
"An overhaul of the display can take up to eight hours. I have worked till three to four in the morning."
More horrifying though is when she spots a mannequin with her hand placed awkwardly near her face.
"She will look like she is digging her nose, which is just terrible for projecting a positive image."
It's also not a job for those who recoil at getting their hands dirty.
"Climbing ladders and carrying bulky items is part of the job. It's not as glamorous as people think. Sometimes I look like a vagrant!"
Miss Huang admits to talking to the mannequins as she gets them dressed.
"I comb their hair, and tell them to be good and sell the clothes well," she says with a laugh, insisting that she is still in her right mind.
The Taiwanese, who majored in visual communication design at university, has been based in Singapore for the past two years, but flies back to Taiwan once a month.
Visual merchandising does not receive much credit when a brand does well, but the role is integral to making clothes fly off the racks, she maintains.
"You'd be surprised - a simple swop around can really move stock!"
Having been in this line for about 10 years, she is used to being gawked at by passers-by while manoeuvring mannequins in display windows.
Once, a passer-by was so intrigued by what she was doing, the woman walked into the glass with a resounding thump.
"I had my back turned and the next thing I heard was a bang. I turned around to see a woman holding her hand to her head and looking very sheepish."
Despite that, the passer-by still walked in and bought something.
Convincing customers that the clothes are worth buying is just part of the challenge. Often, the more tricky task is convincing store assistants to accept her suggestions.
"The sales assistants get a say in the layout and display within the store. Sometimes, they can get possessive," she remarks.
The soft approach works wonders, she reveals. She says: "I always tell them, 'The way you're displaying it looks good, but employing this other method might be more effective.'"
Her worst nightmare is when the store ends up looking like it is "on sale".
"When the clothes are hung too close to one another, customers have to prise them apart to get a good look at the designs. It also makes the store look very cheap," she says.
Spacing them correctly - about 10cm apart by her definition - helps the store exude sophistication and class.
"Then when they walk in and see that a dress costs $120 apiece, they may think, 'Hey, that's pretty reasonable for something that looks so pricey from the outside.'"
But what if it looks too expensive for customers to even venture in for a look?
"That's why you've got to display the prices of the clothes at the foot of your mannequins!"
Demanding customers may not be as troublesome to deal with as their children, who enjoy wearing the mannequin's wigs for fun.
"They take them off the dolls and put them on their own heads. Then they start darting around the store!"
Secrets of the trade
1 It may not look glamorous, but the best way to carry a mannequin is one hand at the crotch and the other at her neck. This creates balance and prevents the top half of the body from flopping down.
2 Pay attention to your customer profile. If your shop sees mainly working professionals on the weekdays, you may want to change the clothes in your window to a more casual style on the weekends.
3 Often, items are difficult to sell because they are too trendy, or every other shop is selling it. Keep the item, then take it out after a few weeks and you'd be surprised at how fast it goes.