A True Partnership: Retail Execs on Nordstrom’s Endurance

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Diane Sullivan, chairman and chief executive officer, Caleres Inc.

What sets Nordstrom apart: “It takes a remarkable set of circumstances and people to succeed in business for more than a century. The integrity of the Nordstrom family certainly set the tone for the company’s achievements from day one. A strong retail company must have a laser focus on and deep understanding of its customer. That is Nordstrom’s greatest strength. Looking to the future, their entire team is wired to continuously evolve and innovate. The combination of all is what makes the Nordstrom DNA so special. Caleres is honored to be a part of their history and journey.”

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Andrew Rosen, cofounder, Theory

What sets Nordstrom apart: “It’s been a family-run operation for 120 years. There’s a lot of culture, there’s a lot of tradition and there’s a lot of pride. That starts with Pete and Erik and the whole Nordstrom family. Everyone there seems proud to be part of that kind of culture. Because they’re in the Pacific Northwest, they’re a little outside the fashion circle that some of the other guys are in, so in some ways, they just did their own thing and they did it very well. They were early in the technology game. Although they’re quite conservative on one level, I think they’re very innovative on another level. They made investments in different things, whether it was Haute Look or Trunk Club or what they did with Nordstrom Local. They’re all about the customer. That really sets them apart. With the Nordstrom family being at the helm of this company from the beginning, there’s a sense of pride and authenticity about that.”

A personal memory: “They’re from the Northwest and I’m a New Yorker, and I think it took a while to get to know the Nordstroms and understand them. Over the years, I have developed a really close relationship with Pete and Erik. They just make you feel really good to be around. They’re just really good people. They have a lot of integrity and a lot of soul when it comes to doing business. They’re not flashy, they’re not a flashy company. They’re really good, solid people. Doing business with them is a real pleasure.”

Kenneth Cole, founder, executive chairman and chief creative officer, Kenneth Cole

What sets Nordstrom apart:Nordstrom is consumer centric like nobody else. Their business model is to offer an unparalleled level of service to the customer. They are both great partners and great merchants and are committed to not just serving the consumer but the entire communities in which they do business.”

The next 120 years: “I believe Nordstrom’s will be servicing the customer in a state-of-the-art manner, whatever that will mean in that time.”

David Yurman, founder, David Yurman

What sets Nordstrom apart: “At its heart, Nordstrom is a family business with family values. Sybil [Yurman] and I understand what it means to build and run a family business: Every day, it’s your name, your reputation and your values on display. They share our values. Making people feel good is at their core and it comes from the heart. It’s something you can’t fake! They care about the details and believe it’s the little things, the personal things, that matter. To quote Maya Angelou, ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”

A personal memory: “In the early days, when we were building the David Yurman brand, Sybil and I had a lot to learn. Because we are both artists, we always called what we were doing the ‘Art of Commerce’ and we tried hard to blend those two worlds. The thing I remember most is how Nordstrom gave us the space and opportunity to not only learn, but were open to our perspective.”

Dave Grange
Dave Grange

Dave Grange, international K-Swiss brand president and Americas GM, K-Swiss Global Brands

What sets Nordstrom apart: “Nordstrom has been such an aspirational partner for many brands. It’s a number of areas blended together that sets them apart. The very high standards of store presentation, locations, premium brand assortment, exceptional customer service and the ability to reach such a broader customer base.”

A personal memory: “I moved over to the U.S. 16 years ago and was visiting the Seattle flagship as one of my first national retail visits. I was looking at the men’s footwear department downstairs when a tall, very well-dressed man walked past with a kind face and smile. He talked to many people on the floor and was really engaging, picking up shoes and chatting away. I assumed he was a friendly and regular customer. A few minutes later a co-worker I was with pointed and said, ‘That’s Blake Nordstrom.’ I still remember thinking how special it was someone with his level of responsibility could be so connected, interested, engaged and genuine. That’s my first memory and one of my favorites.”

Ari Hoffman, North America CEO, Ted Baker London

What sets Nordstrom apart: “One hundred and 20 years later, Nordstrom is still a family business, which is evident in the personal way they treat their people and their vendors. Nordstrom’s storied dedication to service and customer loyalty is second to none. They are always willing to sacrifice short-term profit to do right by their customers and to stay true to their values. I especially admire their modesty and humility, which is what makes our relationship real.”

Susan Itzkowitz
Susan Itzkowitz

Susan Itzkowitz, president, Marc Fisher Footwear

What sets Nordstrom apart: “Celebrating 120 years is an amazing milestone attesting to Nordstrom’s unparalleled commitment to quality, excellence and most importantly to their brands and customers and vendors. Since day one, Marc Fisher Footwear has deeply valued our relationship with Brian Costello and the Nordstrom team. Through strong communication, openness to out-of-the-box thinking, exceptional focus and dedication to product, we have felt very fortunate to build a strong footwear business with a first-in-class partner.”

Deirdre Quinn, CEO, Lafayette 148

A personal memory: “Coming up in this business, I’ve always had an affinity for Nordstrom — a brand that authentically lives its values. I remember attending their [Women in Nordstrom] group back in 2019 and Pete [Nordstrom] being there. That meant everything to me. They’ve always been ahead of the curve … promoting women-led businesses, like Lafayette 148, leaders on inclusive sizing and on sustainability. There are just a handful of family-owned fashion businesses like us out there, and Nordstrom shows that it’s a strength, because they’ve always been able to do good while continuing to evolve and stay relevant.”

Jonathan Frankel, senior vice president, Aldo Group

What sets Nordstrom apart: “Everyone is going to say customer service, which is true for sure, but what also sets them apart is their management team’s commitment to making sure they really understand and appreciate what their customer wants. They are committed to product, product, product. It’s motivating to work with them and pushes us as a partner to deliver freshness season after season.”

The next 120 years: “A fully experiential shopping x lifestyle leader, with seamless fusion between exploration, editorial and buying. Where to go to experience, learn and purchase.”

Wayne Kulkin, CEO, P448

What sets Nordstrom apart: “Nordstrom personifies everything that a great retailer does — integrity, passion, work ethic and unwavering customer service.”

A personal memory: “Best memory is a lesson I learned from Mr. Bruce [Nordstrom] when I was 19 years old. We had a record day in the store that I bought for. He called and said congratulations, which was a huge deal. I was so excited and responded by sharing how hard I worked. What he said really stuck with me: ‘I’m not calling to thank you, I’m calling to thank your team.’ That taught me a very quick lesson that I will never forget.”

The next 120 years: “[Nordstrom will be an] international, digitally led, customer service omnichannel retailer.”

Blake Krueger, chairman and CEO, Wolverine World Wide Inc.

What sets Nordstrom apart: “Service, service, service. Nordstrom started in footwear and has continued to hire and grow a knowledgeable and helpful team throughout the years. Its history as a family business also makes Nordstrom unique, and this approach truly goes beyond their internal team and extends to all of us as partners.”

A personal memory: “Mostly, I remember fondly my conversations with Blake, who left us far too soon. We often discussed how Nordstrom and Wolverine Worldwide could help people in the footwear industry and continue the great work done by the Two Ten Footwear Foundation. Giving back was, and continues to be, an important mission to both of us.”

The next 120 years: “I believe Nordstrom will still be a cornerstone omnichannel retail experience here in the United States. I see them continuing to offer a unique and carefully merchandised selection of brands and products and, as always, to be supported by a knowledgeable and helpful team. The foundation and reputation Nordstrom has built will always stand out, and I hope that it is still a family-run company 120 years from now.”

Steve Madden, photographed in New York City in October 2019. - Credit: ©2016 Brad Trent
Steve Madden, photographed in New York City in October 2019. - Credit: ©2016 Brad Trent

©2016 Brad Trent

Steve Madden, founder, Steve Madden

What sets Nordstrom apart: “Nordstrom’s attention to its shoe business is extraordinary.”

A personal memory: “My favorite memory is selling Blake Nordstrom shoes, back in 1981, when he was the buyer for the downtown Seattle location. I was so impressed at his attention to detail, and he was a buyer who later became the CEO of the company.”

The next 120 years: “At that point, they will have stores on Mars and Jupiter and hopefully we will not have problems shipping them there.”

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