A Most Excellent Side Hustle

Needing flexible hours or wanting to supplement your income? This could be the job for you!

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a store and you can’t find what you’re looking for. You notice an employee stocking some shelves, so you ask them. Their reply is something along the lines of, “Sorry, I wish I could help, but I don’t work for this store.”

Odds are, you’ve just met a Retail Merchandiser. I was one of them for a while there, and it was actually kind of fun.  It’s been years, but I still get contacted by various companies, begging me to take a job. I’m surprised I haven’t blogged about this before, because it’s a great way to pick up extra money. All you need is to be an able bodied adult with reliable transportation, attention to detail, the ability to meet deadlines, and a smart phone with enough data to send in photographs and reports.

The beauty of this job is that you’re an independent contractor, so you can take as much or as little work as you want. And you work flexible hours. These gigs do have firm start and end dates, but mostly you choose what hours you go to the store to do the work.

For example, I once took on a gig for a company that wanted its clothing displayed in area Costco stores. The job entailed taking inventory, setting up the display, visiting and neatening it up 2 times a week for 3 weeks, then tearing down the display and having it shipped to the next location.  

Once I accepted the gig, they sent all the materials to Costco. I would go to the store dressed in a plain golf shirt and dark pants and a vest they provided me. I’d sign in, and a store employee would get the materials from the back for me.

Next, I’d take a photograph of the unopened boxes so the company could see what shape the materials were in when they arrived. Next, I open the box, and take an inventory of all its contents. I’d then take a photo of that inventory form to send to the company.

Then I’d set up the display, based on a “Plan-o-gram” that was sent to me. It’s basically a map describing exactly how the display should look, showing you were each item should be hung. Once I had set up the display I’d take a picture of it and send that in as well.

Of course, the whole time I worked on the display, I’d be interrupted by customers trying to find stuff, and I’d have to cheerfully explain that I didn’t work for Costco. But if that’s the only thing I had to complain about, it’s hardly worth mentioning.

After that, I’d visit the site the prescribed number of times each week to neaten things up. People are such animals. Often it would look like a cyclone had struck the display, but it wouldn’t take long to straighten things out. This included taking a quick wander around the store to see if some fool left some of your merchandise in the cereal aisle or some other stupid place. Then, again with the pictures. At the end of the gig, I’d take a final inventory, tear it all down, pack it precisely the way the company indicated it should be packed, take another picture, and send it on its merry way. Then I’d get paid.

Easy peasy. I’ll share pictures of a few of my displays below. While I tended to get clothing and accessories most of the time, these gigs could be for just about any merchandise you can think of. One time I rearranged and restocked an entire potato chip aisle in a grocery store, along with a dozen other independent contractors. It paid well for 2 hours of work.

Another time, I was stocking frozen foods. I’ll never do that again. By the time I was done, my hands felt like two blocks of ice. A friend also told me to avoid greeting cards. The boxes are heavy, and the displays take forever to set up and are annoying to maintain. Dealing with store managers can sometimes not be fun, but mostly, they point you in the right direction and let you go about your business. The only other challenge I had was trying not to spend my earnings on the merchandise, because I’d get rather attached to it.

A fun gig that I never got a chance to do was setting up and decorating artificial Christmas trees. Apparently their plan-o-grams are so specific that you know which ornaments to put on which branches. My autistic brain appreciates that. It might drive you neurotypicals nuts, though.

Retail Merchandising is the perfect job for a college student, a retiree, or for someone who needs flexible hours to supplement their income. It would be perfect for someone who is a single parent because you could schedule your site visits for when the kids are in school. This job definitely allows for a bit of freedom as long as you take their beginning and ending deadlines seriously.

If you live in a big city with lots of big stores, that’s an advantage, because these companies need all the help they can get in a metropolis. And if you are rural, but there’s one big store nearby, that’s also an advantage, because these companies have a hard time finding people to service stores that are out in the boonies. The flexible schedule works great if you like to travel, too.

As desperate as these companies are to find reliable people to do this work, you’d think that the job would be more well known. On the contrary, it’s practically a secret. If you’re like I used to be, you assume that all the merchandise in a store was set up and inventoried by the store’s employees, with the possible exception of soda distributors. Nope.

So, how do you break into this market? Well, it used to be extremely easy. There was an organization called NARMS, the National Association or Retail Merchandisers, and it was like a hub. They had videos to watch for training purposes that cost practically nothing, and once you completed one, they’d give you a certification that would give you access to certain kinds of jobs. The more training, the more jobs you’d have to choose from. Various companies would post their gigs on the site and you’d then take the ones you wanted.

Unfortunately, the NARMS website seems to be dead. They still have a presence on Linked In, but it seems rather neglected as well. I imagine they were killed off by the pandemic, but it’s hard to say.

But all is not lost. I did find a company called Retail Merchandising Services, Inc. which looks pretty legitimate. I can’t personally recommend them as I have no experience with them, but it seems that they train you, and they work in big name stores such as Macy’s, Target, Barnes and Noble, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and REI. I think that would be an excellent place to start. I’m sure there are other resources out there, too, if you’re willing to do your homework.

So, if you’re looking for a flexible side hustle and you don’t want to be an Uber driver and have strange people in your car, check out Retail Merchandising. It fits the bill perfectly. Good luck!

Here are a few of my displays. It’s funny, even after all these years, when I look at these pictures, I’m proud of them.

If this little blog has broadened your horizons, check out my book!  http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Author: The View from a Drawbridge

I have been a bridgetender since 2001, and gives me plenty of time to think and observe the world.

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