Thoughtful, passionate and hardworking, Bridget Thiessen is a Merchandising marvel with skills that could knock the socks off a shop floor mannequin. A recent Toronto transplant, Bridget is the District Visual Manager responsible for seven of the 14 Club Monaco locations around the city. But before she lived in Toronto or even Vancouver, Bridget’s fashion journey began in Winnipeg, where she was in the middle of a General Arts degree. Funnily enough, it was her part-time job during university that lead her to her passion: visual merchandising.
“I had no idea what merchandising was or that it was a job you could do, I was just doing my job as far as I was concerned! But one of my managers saw a knack for merchandising in me and explained all about it, so I started helping out with new windows or collection roll-outs where I could between classes and I decided that I wanted to keep going with it.”
Enticed by the program length, the array of classes and Vancouver’s mild weather (“I’d had snow every year for 20 years — the absence of it was so alluring!”), Bridget set off to the beautiful West Coast to study Global Fashion Marketing for one year at Blanche Macdonald. The program only increased her appetite for visual merchandising and she, not surprisingly, soaked up all the information she could from classes, determined to use it in her future career as a Merchandiser.
“The whole program was so, so great but for me, the classes that I was in love with were the ones that give you the product knowledge you need to be a Merchandiser, like Fashion Elements and Textiles. Even the Photoshop class comes in handy every now and then. I don’t use it in my day-to-day but I’ve had to go on and learn other Adobe programs for work, and having that base in Photoshop was immensely helpful.”
The whole program was so, so great but for me, the classes that I was in love with were the ones that give you the product knowledge you need to be a Merchandiser, like Fashion Elements and Textiles.
And if you could believe it, it was another part-time job during Fashion school that would again take Bridget to the next chapter of life.
“I saw a posting on Craigslist for a part-time position at Club Monaco so I applied. Once I was done school and ready to work full-time I talked to my supervising Merchandiser about getting a more full-time, permanent position. Luckily one day a girl who was on the merchandising team moved back to France and her job was open! I applied and have been with the brand ever since – about eight years now!”
Over eight years, Bridget steadily rose through the merchandising ranks at Club Monaco, learning the intricacies and everyday functions of the business to her immense benefit. In fact, it’s one of the reasons she credits to her success in her role now.
“Working through the ranks over two years gave me two really great skills for my job now. First, I’ve got a very comprehensive perspective of the brand and how they’ve evolved. I understand our customer base as a whole but also the smaller categories of customers. Our tried-and-true customers will often opt for different pieces than our new, or occasional customers will choose, and my job is about speaking to as many of them as I can. The second thing it gave me is a good sense of who I need to be and what I need to do to properly communicate and train my teams, both merchandising and in-store. I’ve been all those roles and spent time growing with the brand, so I know what each job entails and the difficulties and rewards that come with each of them. I can specialize what I’m saying to each person so that they can easily incorporate it into their day.”
Specializing visual merchandising standards and training to her various teams isn’t the only thing that Bridget spends her days modifying. It just so happens, as she’s a bit of a merchandising authority, she often gets to take part in visual merchandising projects all around North America with Club Monaco.
“I’ve overseen markets in Vancouver, Alberta, San Francisco, Seattle, and now Toronto. Each store in each city is different. You definitely have to cater to the particular client; whether it’s the ‘career’ person or ‘dressed up for a party’ person. My job is all about deciding how to best present to them and make the biggest impact on them during their shopping time. It can get challenging because our customers run the gamut from stay-at-home moms to corporate women and through a pretty wide age range.”
I’ve overseen markets in Vancouver, Alberta, San Francisco, Seattle, and now Toronto. Each store in each city is different.
With such a wide array of customers to speak to on the daily, Bridget has some finely-honed steps and skills in place to make sure that whichever store she’s in that day, will be well set up and organized to have their floor look as inviting and shoppable as possible.
“When you’re visual merchandising, the main thing to keep in mind is who you’re merchandising for. Whoever the zones are made for, are they appealing to the person in mind? My constant mantra is ‘Are these friends or this couple going to the same party?’ Always asking that question really helps us keep our merchandising on point.” With so many types of people to speak to through Club Monaco’s displays, Bridget explains that creating an emotional reaction is vital. “When merchandising I incorporate different elements— style, colour, texture, and display props. The goal is to elicit an emotional response that inspires shoppers while they’re in the store.”
“While you’re working with a team and merchandising with that store’s offerings, communication is so important. You’ve got to be an active listener as well; merchandising is so opinion-based that the better you listen, the easier you’re going to come to a positive result.”
Every week is different for Bridget, and that’s part of what keeps her so interested in what she does. Making rounds through each store in her district over the course of a week sees her taking calls with Head Office in New York, ensuring her stores are ready for all promos, sales, or events, assessing each store’s business and finding creative solutions for individual visual merchandising needs. She is also a big believer in finding and supporting other burgeoning Merchandisers she comes across.
When merchandising I incorporate different elements— style, colour, texture, and display props. The goal is to elicit an emotional response that inspires shoppers while they're in the store.
Besides studying at Blanche, my career was greatly helped along by two supervisors I had in part-time roles. I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can help others develop in merchandising. Along with helping them grow in that direction, it’s also important that I try and prepare them for everything that role brings. Merchandising isn’t only about creativity, you have to have business acumen and management skills, it’s really an all-encompassing role. And as you’re part of so many different teams, you’ve really got to be an asset to them all!”
Though finding and mentoring up-and-coming Merchandisers is one of Bridget’s favourite parts of her job, there’s one other aspect of it that can’t quite be beat — new store openings.
“I’ve gotten to do a handful store openings over the years I’ve been here and it’s absolutely a Merchandiser’s dream. Visual merchandising is all about those small, fine details and when you’ve got a couple days in a closed store to get everything perfect, up to standards, and then still have time to go back and review your work with a fine-toothed comb—it’s just THE BEST feeling. And then once that part is done, you open the store up to the customers and watching them experience the brand in such a pure, fresh way makes everything worth it. It’s such a rewarding experience.”