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How Vans Transformed its Visual Merchandising with ‘Digital-First’ Processes

During the pandemic, many retail organizations embraced more agile, often digital ways of working. Corporate employees immediately felt the benefits, largely because they were given the newfound power to work from anywhere and at any time. But as retailers continued to employ digital tools and platforms to support their remote workforce, they also saw new benefits that had a tangible impact on business results, including faster time to market and improved cross-functional alignment.

Now, brands like Vans are embedding these short-term solutions into their day-to-day workflows as they strive to optimize the flow and experience of the shoe and apparel retailer’s 500+ stores in North America. Vans has increased the efficiency workflow for its visual merchandising and monthly floorset process using solutions from IWD. Through their long-term partnership, which reached a whole new level of value during the pandemic, Vans has reduced overall time spent documenting store concepts by 25%.

“Our biggest challenge over the past year has been adapting our floorset process digitally,” said Paul Rupert, Visual Merchandising Manager for Elevated Retail at Vans in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Thanks to our ongoing partnership with IWD, we were able to pivot our floorset process to a digital-first mindset.”

From Manual Spreadsheets to Visual, Collaborative Tech

Typically, visual merchandisers (VMs) tend to work in Excel spreadsheets — a manual, time-consuming process that makes it difficult for store employees to fully visualize the store layout.

Using the IWD Display solution, VMs can build out 3D models of Vans’ stores to use for monthly and seasonal planning. They can drag and drop components and easily export guidelines to store teams for seamless execution. “This has been instrumental in giving our team time back to refocus our attention on other key areas of the business and visual merchandising/marketing functions,” Rupert explained. “We now merchandise each month through the Display platform and utilize many of Display’s functionalities to aid in the creation of our floorset documents.”

The power of Display is augmented by Network, a platform Vans’ field teams use to upload photos of their in-store displays. Sharing these images allows the home office to gain visibility into retail stores and better understand how in-store merchandising and marketing displays are brought to life. Rupert noted that Network has “been a critical function for my store group over the last two years.”

In fact, Network has empowered Vans to significantly improve transparency and communication between headquarters and store locations. While Rupert and his team would typically visit key markets to assess adherence to brand and merchandising guidelines, stores can now provide daily and weekly updates as to the state of their store environments. More ongoing and collaborative processes help ensure brand consistency but also help the VM team determine if any updates need to be made for specific stores. Each store is equipped with an iPad, which store managers use to take and upload photos, complete questionnaires and chat with headquarters regarding best practices and necessary changes.

These capabilities are especially critical for Rupert, whose days typically entail working closely with store teams and field leadership to ensure visual and brand expectations are consistently met within its doors.

A Process Reset, Powered by Partnership

In his role, Rupert oversees all visual merchandising and marketing touch points for Vans’ brand showcase and boutique locations. He plans and creates monthly and seasonal retail plans and collaborates with team members across the business on in-store merchandising strategy and environmental displays.

He and his team were able to improve their processes seamlessly thanks to an existing partnership with IWD. The Vans business has been collaborating with IWD for approximately seven years and was already using some of Display’s 2D functionality. But when Rupert joined the company in 2019, he helped scale the partnership to include both Network and Display, and tapped IWD’s expertise during the pandemic when they had to completely rethink their processes.

“At the start of the pandemic when we needed to adapt our floorset and merchandising processes digitally, we reached out to IWD to gain additional insight and training on the 3D capabilities,” Rupert explained. “This was a real reset for our team. Thanks to our ongoing partnership, the team at IWD was readily equipped to guide us through training modules and talk us through ways the platform could support our need to move to a digital-first floorset process.”

Rupert spent approximately four weeks training and onboarding the 3D display functionalities. Then, he integrated Display into floorset processes over the next month. In total, he was able to implement a new, digital process in approximately two months. “This timeline was achievable because of the close partnership and fast response time we’ve formed with the client success team at IWD.”

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