Profile: Erin Minor, U.S. Retail Channel – Visual Merchandising and Marketing Manager, Microsoft
Erin Minor fell into visual merchandising by accident. She worked for Esprit and started decorating the windows and remerchandising some of its stores. Then she went to work for Macy’s as a visual manager. After moving to Seattle, Minor became the visual district manager for Banana Republic stores in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, followed by a stint at REI for merchandising, fixture development and new store openings.
Minor decided to change her focus from soft goods to consumer electronics when an opportunity arose at Microsoft to work with the Xbox team. After three years as the Xbox U.S. visual merchandising manager, she recently moved to the Windows and Office team as the U.S. visual merchandising manager.
What are your current responsibilities?
MINOR: As the Windows PC and Office visual merchandising manager for all U.S. retailers, I develop marketing materials and fixtures and support product launches in the U.S. I support the brand and give worldwide guidance for Microsoft.
Describe the structure of your organization as it relates to merchandising, including how you interact with shopper marketing and with insights.
MINOR: Everything begins with our business group/brand team and is then shared with the worldwide category and visual merchandising teams to create brand-appropriate messaging, brand imagery and priorities. The U.S. team then adapts the worldwide direction and customizes it per retailer to fit into each one’s retail environment.
How does your company define success for its in-store marketing programs?
MINOR: We leverage our labor team to install and execute programs and follow up with audits. We rely on our retailers to share sales and are at their mercy to track sales metrics and determine sell through of product. Since we also have Microsoft Office products, we look to attach sales of Office to every PC sale. In regards to the visual merchandising team, we measure our success by allowing ourselves to explore, test and roll out new programs to keep our ideas fresh and always on the forefront of good design or better customer experience.
How has the emergence of the omnichannel shopper influenced your overall approach to merchandising?
MINOR: Microsoft tries to tie a similar messaging, look and feel of our online and in-store assets going to the retail partners for consistency. We do try to incorporate learnings on how customers shop online to influence our tactics in recommendations for merchandising solutions at brick-and-mortar stores.
What are the important characteristics of a mutually beneficial merchandising collaboration between a manufacturer and retailers?
MINOR: Trust and transparency. I need to know that they think of me as the expert so I can bring new ideas and they are open to it. Having a trusting relationship also allows them to tell me their struggles/frustrations so we can work together to solve problems.
How has merchandising changed in recent years? What trends are happening now?
MINOR: I used to do amazing window displays and lots of trim 20 years ago. That has definitely changed. Space is at a premium and used for selling product to get the most out of sales per square feet. Visual merchandising has become more about product placement and maximizing space. I think we will see the pendulum swing and see more retailers trying to tell stories through visual displays. I believe this will be how retailers will be able to define their unique voice.
What role do you foresee the physical store playing in the future?
MINOR: Maybe because I am truly a visual merchandiser at heart, I think there will always be a place for physical stores. I don’t think showrooming will become the way of the future. I think people want to experience and play with product. I could see the retail space becoming a place for people to learn, play and experience. Products will become curated with exclusives and bring consumers back into the retail space on a regular cadence to find out what is new.
MINOR: One of my most memorable moments was my first visual merchandising job. It was a small company on the California coast with only 15 stores. We didn’t have a large budget but we had big ideas. I knew some people on the Nordstrom’s visual team who were willing to sell me some previous displays, mannequins and props. I drafted a proposal to our CFO on why we needed this and what it could do to our retail stores since we were in the process of upgrading the stores, product and presence in these small beach towns. Once it was approved, the visual team (myself and one trimmer) painted, rebuilt and added to the props. We were able to do window displays to launch a summer campaign that brought rave reviews from customers and local newspapers.
MINOR: Best Buy had not updated the gaming section in its stores for a while. Since we were looking for a completely new approach, I reached out to agency WD Partners for concepts. Working solely with the agency, we had a clear creative direction and were able to sell it to Best Buy with the partnership of the sales account executive. It allowed messaging for new game and product launches. It took the interactive TV screen and created a shroud and call to action for customers to engage with. We tested it in three stores prior to the holiday and saw great results in sales and customer engagement. Best Buy adopted the new concepts and began looking at the next step to refine, value engineer for cost effectiveness and roll out to the entire chain.