Industrial Profile 12/1/2003

Visual Merchandiser - Rip Curl


Interview with Brett Hillyard

Pick up a Happy Magazine ( to see the Industrial Profile in print.


How do you decide which brand is your favorite?  Quality of product, team riders, advertising, marketing, overall brand image? Maybe some or all of these things are considered while you’re flippin’ through the pages of Happy.  One other thing that might come into consideration is the way a company is represented in your local shop.  Its also important to the company – from a deluxe window display to the presentation of product available to you in each shop, it matters.  So, how does it happen, and who does it?  Companies such as Rip Curl have Visual Merchandisers like Brett Hillyard to stay on top of it.


Let’s see what its like to do the job….


What’d you do today?

I’m neck deep in paper & glue right now, and my finger is stuck to the “yes” button on my cell.  Give me a minute….Ok.  I’m ready. 


I was doing some displays for the Santa Monica store.  I had a life-size manikin to turn into a full collage with a lot of our team riders.  In the end it looked like a sculpture.  This explanation doesn’t do it justice, its hard to put something like that in words. 


But typically, I’ll load up my ride with POP, posters, light boxes and then hit the shop.  At the shop I’ll help out with in-store presentation of our merchandise.  A key focus is on putting together display windows for the store-front. 


Every window I do is different.  Sometimes to get started, I’ll roll to a thrift shop, find some crazy stuff, and incorporate it into the theme of the window.  Statues, lights, statues, manikins, army dolls, anything you can think of (the army doll window was all-time).  It’s a part of how I approach windows - I try to spark an emotion.  Not the same old surf turn or barrel shot.  I want to get the person’s attention with the window, make them stop and take notice.


Every store varies.  I’ll look at it the space I have to work with, hang out in the shop for a little while, talk with the people that work there and the customers, and basically feel the mood of the store.  Then let the creativity flow…


When I leave I want it to look like I spent time on it.  The window is a canvas and each one turns out unique.


How many windows do you do in a typical month?

About 20 or so.  My busiest month was about 35 during trade show season.  If I’m not doing windows I’m helpin’ build clothing racks, trade show stuff, planning events.  I’m busy.


How can people check out your windows, go see them?

Keep an eye on your local shop!


What are your major influences?

Growing up my mom was always painting & stuff.  It runs in the family.  It’s something that’s there.  I like going to art shows, galleries, and museums to check out the way people do stuff.  Multi-media is really cool.  I like to produce things that use all different mediums.  When I go places, I’ll see something and turn it into an idea or concept for a window.


My cousin Mason is a big influence too.  He did a lot of portraits and the style he brought into them inspired me.  Crazy combinations of colors….Inspired me to got to art school.


You went to art school?

Yeah, I went to USC and got my Bachelor of Fine Arts.  Finished in 2001.


So how’d you end up at Rip Curl?

Mike (at Rip Curl) is a good friend of mine and we were talking about the job.  They needed someone to come on as a Visual Merchandiser, and it worked out.  Before that I was working within the industry doing sales, but I really wanted to do something creative.  I went to school for art, and its been a part of my life for a long time.  I got hired on 6 months ago and the rest is history.


That’s pretty cool that you were able to make the transition from sales to creative.

A friend of mine helped me get into the surf industry doing the sales job.  She was my boss and would let me have flexibility and do some creative stuff, along with sales.  I’m really thankful to her for getting me in and helping me learn the ropes.  Knowing the sales end helps with the windows in the respect of understanding retailers’ needs, and knowing the vibe of being in a shop.  You take that with you.  Not really trying to sell people, but actually add value and build real friendships.


When you go into it, do you have limitations or guidelines that you follow or does Rip Curl let you go free?

Rip Curl gives me some specs.  For example, we have contests we run and the company will want me to incorporate that into the window.  Beyond that, its come to a point where they realize the more freedom they give me the crazier and more effective my windows are.


When I feel a limitation of some sort, I go after it and try to actually turn that limitation into something good.  If there’s one thing that I can say is definitely a limitation is drugs and naked people.  When I’m at the shop and the head honcho asks me what I’m going to do and I say I’m not sure yet, the first response is almost always, “that’s cool, but no drugs or naked people”.


What’s the breakdown between road-warrior time, and office time?

About 85% of my time is on the road.  When I’m not on the road, I’m setting up appointments and filling out expense reports (Sharpie, you owe me $3K for this interview to pay the phone bill…).


So what’s the big challenge?

The biggest challenge is having a relationship with Jesus when working in the surf industry.  There are a lot of opportunities to party, and there’s always something going on. 


What’s been goin’ on lately?

Just got back from NY.  Had a good time over there on an inspiration trip.


Do you get to take a lot of inspiration trips?

No, but I need to take more (Sharpie?????)  Anytime I leave the country, it seems like tons of new inspirations come in.  The crazy graffiti on the street, murals and stuff.  They’re not doin’ it for fame.  Its real art and it’s the basic motivator.


A lot of my ideas come from traveling and seeing the influences that exist in different parts of the country & world.  Fashion is big influence too.  Its not the big names everyone knows, it’s the underground stuff you’ll see in a local place.  That stuffs inspiring.


Thinking back on some of the major points you shared with us, what’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

Umm….when I’m actually there doing the window.  It’s kind of a pain finding everything – that can take a lot of time.  Loading the car…  But when I’m in there actually putting it together is the best part of my job.  You forget about the budgets, deadlines, and stress.  You’re there doing it.  Get caught up and time flies.  Walk away feelin’ good.


Then you sit in traffic on the way to the next shop.


Is there anything you can tell the readers about working or succeeding in the industry (a piece of advice)?


What about school?

Go, if you’re parents are payin’…No, school is good regardless of who’s payin.


Closing comments?

Thanks Mom & Dad, for your support.