Retail Space Planning Community


The Future of Retail/Space: Campus Perspectives | Inside Georgia Southern University’s Fashion Merchandising & Apparel Design Program

By Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, ARC

The end of the school year is here for many university students, and countless others are earning their diplomas and entering the workforce.

With this in mind, we called around to various universities in the U.S. and Canada last week to get some perspective on the state of students reading for careers in retail, CPG, and related fields, and we’ll be sharing a good number of these insights in the weeks ahead.

In the first of these series of features, we caught up with Dr. Beth Myers, the chair of the fashion merchandising and apparel design program at Georgia Southern University. According to Myers, the program has about 150 students split across two tracks: design and merchandising. They also offer a Visual Merchandising elective, which of course we needed to know more about, so read on for that. 

“The students who go the design track want to be designers,” Myers told the Space Planning Community. “Many of our students have an entrepreneurial spirit, so they want to of course have their own company, and some of them do and that sort or work for other designers and so forth.

“The merchandising students typically work in store management, boutiques. Looking at our internships right now for the summer, they’re mainly in regional boutiques around here in the southeast and the coastal part of Georgia or in Atlanta because a lot of our students come from metro Atlanta.”

An edited version of our interview with Myers is below.

Space Planning Community: We noticed that one of the electives offered to students is Visual Merchandising. Our space planner members certainly love to see that. How popular is the class?

Myers: The students have a lot of interest. There were 32 students in there, so that’s pretty good for a 300-level class.

The students are still thinking about it in terms of window display. And so actually it’s interesting you mentioned space planning, because something that we would like to move the class more into. We also have an interior design program here in the School of Human Ecology. So we’ve talked about merging the two because definitely there’s space planning over there and interior design with software and so forth.

Space Planning Community: That would be a great idea and opportunity for the students. Our members looking to hire analysts, etc. would surely appreciate students who had some AutoCAD or other drawing exposure before joining.

About your students: they’ve come up in an online world. Are they online shoppers or are they in-store shoppers?

Myers: They’re shopping online, completely online. I will teach the Textiles class and I’ll talk about walking through a store and feeling the fabrics and things like this, and they’re just completely online. We talked about Black Friday and I shared my experiences growing up and always shopping at the mall, and I said, are any of you going shopping Black Friday? And they were like, eh, maybe I’ll do some stuff online.

But what’s interesting is that when they think about the Visual Merchandising class, what they’re excited about is in-store displays. We have a display area in the lobby and that’s what the visual merchandising class is to them. We send them on a scavenger hunt to look at different types of fixtures and different displays. So it’s very interesting that contradiction where they’re thinking for themselves personally about the online, but then their studies and their careers, it seems it’s very, very in-store focused.

Space Planning Community: How are you preparing your students for an omnichannel world?

Myers: We’re trying to get more software. We’re trying to think more how to prepare them for the online environment. We’ve changed our classes. They used to do an in-person, or not an in person, but a physical portfolio. Now we’re doing digital portfolios. We’ve changed our promotional class. It used to be called fashion presentation and promotion, which is what they would take after visual, but now there’s such a digital focus, it’s called Trend Forecasting and Digital Storytelling or that’s what we’ve proposed to change it, to prepare them for more of a digital career.

Space Planning Community: Before teaching, you worked in retail. What real-world lessons do you try to impart to your students?  

Myers: We’re not just making pretty: we’re selling the merchandise in a cohesive way and we’re looking at numbers. And if it’s not moving, if it’s not selling, we’ve got to make some arrangements trying to incorporate some retail strategy in there and consumer behavior. We’re not just making pretty things. This isn’t an art class — which has its own place, but we are preparing students for careers in the retail industry.

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About the Author: Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, for the Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals (ARC).

Mike brings more than two decades of communications experience to the CMA/SIMA. He began his career in journalism, spending more than 10 years covering the National Football League for Pro Football Weekly and NBC’s Pro Football Talk. His bylines have also appeared in CBS MarketWatch, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NBC New York, and More recently, he has pivoted to corporate communications, including strategy and messaging experience for a Fortune 500 company. Mike holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois.