By  on May 22, 2006

SEATTLE — Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom Inc., likes to keep the family profile low.

"We are just a bunch of shoe people," he told the crowd last week at the Grand Hyatt in New York, where he accepted the American Image Award from the American Apparel and Footwear Association on behalf of the company, not himself, in a rare Manhattan public appearance. "We're retailers, not manufacturers."

His simple message and clean-cut demeanor contrasted with other award recipients, such as Betsey Johnson and Simon Doonan. Then again, Nordstrom, both the family and its Seattle-based chain, has roots in tradition and Northwestern reserve, not in hanging with the fashion crowd or being in the limelight.

Founded as a modest shoe store here in 1901, the company has grown into a $7.7 billion, 99-unit chain, and is stepping out. Nordstrom is generating solid results stemming from a battery of major changes in the last three years, and is aggressively going after real estate as well as merchandise categories where the presentation has been lacking. Store merchants are forming new collaborations with luxury designers, but initiatives also are focused on wear-to-work clothes, children's apparel and layering in men's businesses, such as sunglasses, grooming, fragrance and watches, to capitalize on strengths in shoes and clothing.

There's more centralized buying that facilitates tailoring the selections to local tastes, and a stronger infrastructure. New technology for assortment planning, replenishment and markdown optimization has led to better buying and merchandise flow. Those coveted personal client books as of the second half of 2004 are stored on point-of-sale registers, increasing the efficiency of the service by sales associates.

Officials say the company is getting more sales out of less inventory. In certain areas, millions of dollars in inventory have been shaved off. For example, tuxedos had an overabundance of labels, but several have been dropped in favor of stronger suit labels, such as Canali, which has been beefed up.

Productivity, at $369 a square foot in 2005 compared with $347 the year before, is second only to Neiman Marcus among department stores and large-format fashion specialty chains considered competition. Nordstrom's same-store sales rose 6 percent in 2005, while Federated Department Stores increased 1.3 percent.

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