Bloomingdale’s Tony Spring on Growth, Gumption and Greater Exclusivity

For Bloomingdale’s and its chairman and chief executive officer Tony Spring, marking the retailer’s 150th birthday this year wasn’t just about reflecting on the past, honoring the legacy, and celebrating the moment.

“It was a chance to transform the store and remind people what retail should be — unexpected, entertaining and with an exciting level of eventing,” said Spring, who, during his conversation with James Fallon, WWD’s editorial director, at the WWD Apparel and Retail CEO Summit, spelled out the master plan for Bloomingdale’s major milestone.

More from WWD

“We actually did something interesting — a pre-mortem 18 months before the anniversary. We said, ‘What would success look like? What would we have to get right?’ Well, we’d want to have vendors participate. We want to have at least a few hundred exclusives. We’d want to have live activities in the stores. We’d want to have restaurants participate. We want to invite our best customers to special events. We’d want to be able to do something in the metaverse, we would want to be able to incorporate pop culture and special events,'” Spring recounted.

“And so as I look back now, a couple of months after the launch of our celebration, I’m really proud of the team. And I’m really appreciative of the vendor community for stepping up and celebrating with us because Bloomingdale’s has a special place in the heart of our customers. Bloomingdale’s has a special place in the fashion community.”

He said creating a Bloomingdale’s timeline online was fun. Bloomingdale’s was founded in 1872 by the brothers Joseph and Lyman Bloomingdale. Another fun element of the campaign was reintroducing many of the Bloomingdale’s shopping bags created by top designers over the years, Spring noted.

“You know, my team is tired of me using the expression, ‘It’s not a moment. It’s a movement,'” referring to how the company has strategized around the 150th. “But we can’t let it just be a one-time celebration. It’s about the energy and the excitement of marking 150 years and taking it forward,” Spring said.

Speaking in culinary and philanthropic terms, Spring noted, “We’re moving now into November where we’re going to have the best Thanksgiving ever. Our resident in-house chef, Jordan Andino, will be doing different cooking classes all throughout November. We’re also supporting No Kid Hungry,” and the 59th Street flagship holiday windows in Manhattan will be unveiled Nov. 17 “with a wonderful performance by Billy Porter,” Spring said.

While planning for the celebration, much research was conducted, and Spring learned that the first escalator ever built was inside Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship, though they’ve since been replaced. (Some believe that the old wooden escalators still operating at Macy’s Herald Square preceded Bloomingdale’s escalators.)

Spring also learned that during wartime, the company supported efforts by the Red Cross to help not only those fighting in the war, but also those families that were left behind.

“Yes, there were plenty of things that I didn’t know in the history of the brand,” Spring said. “The arc of the brand is interesting because of the vision of these brothers — to go to the Upper East Side with Bloomingdale’s when there was nothing there.

“We all love history and love what’s been done before, but there also has to be some gumption, some vision, some trailblazing and willingness to discover and do the next thing that hasn’t been done before,” Spring said.

“It starts with the merchandise. As a team, we have been determined to elevate our assortment,” Spring said, adding that implies anything from a stronger focus on full-price selling, to a more thoughtfully curated assortment with less duplication and greater exclusivity.

“We want to present to our customers the best black dresses and the best leather jackets and the best moto boots and you find yourself buying the same things if you don’t ultimately aggregate and step back and look at it from a consumer standpoint,” Spring said. “Doing that also helped us with our full-price selling and to create a more distinguished assortment versus the competitive landscape.

“I’m a big believer in this balance of art and science. And I think you need to use rigor and the analytics that are available to you. Without that information, you will make the same mistake twice. You will miss opportunities. However, you need taste. You need gut. You need passion. You need risk-taking to make sure that the business and the assortment is well rounded.”

Spring believes in tapping the online business to inform how stores around the country should be merchandised. “I look at the online businesses as geography,” Spring said. “The online business tells you the opportunity in Boca Raton. It tells you the opportunity in Skokie, Illinois. It tells you the opportunity in Orange County, California.”

During one season in a store in California, boots were lagging in sales and a good portion of the assortment was pulled from the store the next season. “Interestingly, when we studied it, those boots outperformed online in that community,” Spring recalled. “So we never sometimes stop and say it’s not just that the boots don’t sell in that community. Maybe we had the wrong sizes. Maybe we had the wrong colors. Maybe the flow came in three weeks later. I think what the online business has done is kind of removed the rose-colored glasses that sometimes we have on, that only certain stores can sell certain things, or only [certain] markets can sell certain things,” Spring said. “We don’t always appreciate how important the digital business is to the physical experience.”

According to the CEO, Bloomingdale’s typically draws an affluent consumer, 50 percent under the age of 50; 35 percent under 40, but it’s multigenerational. There’s a more diverse customer with a higher net worth shopping Bloomingdale’s, maybe not the highest within the competitive landscape, but the consumer has “the open to spend,” Spring said. “The key question is do we have an assortment that attracts them to buy more frequently at Bloomingdale’s?”

The retailer has been aggressive adding luxury and designer brands to its mix, which Spring said is “a long-term game,” adding, “Brands have to make difficult choices in terms of distribution, partnerships, scarcity. Our penetration in luxury has gone up 10 full points in the last four years. And that’s representative of the interest our consumer has in designer merchandise. That being said, we’re in an interesting climate right now. So I look at it like an investment portfolio. And if you’ve talked to your financial adviser lately, everybody wants you to have a balanced portfolio. And so some people could be running to direct-to-consumer, some people could be running to malls, some just to department stores. I certainly have a vested interest in a balanced portfolio — who could be your best partners? And how does that balanced portfolio allow you to have the scarcity and the quality. Fifty percent of our customers want to buy in a multibrand environment. And they are buying the brands that we sell.”

He described Bloomingdale’s as being able to sell consumers through their life stages. “Isn’t it wonderful to work with someone on their sweet 16, and then for their prom, and then to welcome them to the registry, and then be a part of their first home, and their first job, and their vacations and their milestones with their own children.”

Emerging from the pandemic, “The things that we used to think of as amenities have actually become enablers,” Spring said. “So something like Forty Carrots yogurt, or our wedding registry, or the personal shopping area or our stylists program, those things we used to think of as amenities to create a complete store experience. The reality is they’re enablers that make the store a better experience. People come to the store for the yogurt, or they come to the store because a particular personal shopper knows their lifestyle needs. It’s kind of flipped. It’s not something that’s nice to have. It’s something that’s a necessity for a quality store.”

Asked if being part of a big corporation enables or slows Bloomingdale’s ability to reach new heights, Spring responded: “Between Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury [also part of Macy’s Inc.] you have 45 million consumers, $25 billion worth of volume, what’s reported to be a billion dollars worth of capital invested across technology, fulfillment, buy online, pick up in store, digital experiences and store maintenance. The things that can be bureaucratic and in the way are minor compared to the incredible investment and support.”

Asked for his outlook on holiday, Spring said he’s “cautiously optimistic,” as many retailers have also said. “I still feel good about the affluent consumer, I still see buying. I see the consumer as being very interested in rewarding themselves, enjoying life.” Weddings are on the rise, Spring said. “We will register almost 16,000 people this year versus 12,000 in 2019. So people are into life.”

Click here to read the full article.