By  on December 5, 2011

David Fisher has seen a lot of changes at Bloomingdale’s over the past 28-plus years.

The executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s and children’s has worn many hats during his tenure, including women’s ready-to-wear merchant, store manager of the 59th Street flagship and now head of men’s and children’s wear. But during the course of his career, he has worked for only two chief executive officers: Marvin Traub and Michael Gould.

“Marvin and Mike both mean a great deal to me,” he said “They couldn’t be more different, but both have taken the store to levels that others could not have.”

Perhaps the biggest change occurred 10 years ago when Gould masterminded a dramatic about-face, crystallizing a vision for the future of Bloomingdale’s that revolved around what Fisher calls “that beautiful bridge” area. At that time, the store was losing sight of its mission to provide superior merchandise and service and was instead playing the promotional game, like many of its department store competitors. The merchant team was challenged with replacing some huge volume brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica with vendors that were not as widely distributed or well known.

Fisher recalled the anxiety he felt as he stared down that task.

“I remember wondering if I could live long enough to replace the enormous volume we were getting with around 10 or 20 of our big brands,” he said.

The shift worked.

“Our customer comes in looking for what’s new,” he said, “and eventually we got our volume back up.”

So today, Fisher added, “If you look at men’s at Bloomingdale’s, I’m very proud of the penetration relative to other competitors. It’s a very healthy business and we’re proud of being a big business the right way. And that’s much to Mike’s credit.”

Industry observers estimate that men’s, which accounts for about 20 percent of the retailer’s total volume, has risen 3 to 4 percent since the rejiggering.

He said the Bloomingdale’s men’s shopper expects to find brands and trends first — for example, the fledgling young tailored label Ovadia & Sons, folding sunglasses or flare-bottom jeans. “I used to be amazed at the new brands I would see at a specialty store like Fred Segal,” Fisher said. “Not anymore. That’s our heritage.”

So today, brands such as John Varvatos, Burberry and Michael Kors have “become a huge percentage of our business” and allow Bloomingdale’s to thrive by offering an alternative to the more moderate department store labels and the designer brands found at luxury stores.

While tailored clothing and furnishings continue to be an integral part of the men’s store, Fisher said those classifications were “never as big a part of our business as for others.” Instead, contemporary brands like Theory are more important to Bloomingdale’s. Fisher believes the men’s area is “balanced” and appeals to a contemporary guy who is also comfortable in Polo, a mesh T-shirt and oxford shoes. “It’s a blend of classic and contemporary.”

Over the past 18 months, Fisher said the business has shifted more toward tailored offerings as young guys embrace the trend for dressing up.

“We’re also growing our shirt and tie business,” he said, pointing to the strength of Turnbull & Asser and Duchamp shirts.

“The next opportunity is in classifications such as shoes, which can be much larger with more brands and choices,” Fisher added. Dress pants are also a growth area to complement the expanding shirt and sport coat business, along with “classic, very upscale sportswear” such as Loro Piana, Brioni and Zegna Sport. Contemporary designer brands also have “a lot of room” to increase, he believes.

While brands still represent the bulk of the business, Bloomingdale’s has markedly improved its men’s private label offerings over the past several years. Fisher said that a decade ago, department stores looked at private label as “a margin builder” that could be promoted to increase sales. But two years ago, it dispatched its Joseph & Lyman and Metropolitan View house brands in favor of a new collection, The Men’s Store at Bloomingdale’s.

“It’s a quality product, not promotional,” Fisher said. “And it provides the first tier of accessibility to Bloomingdale’s.”

Fisher oversees the men’s mix at all of Bloomingdale’s domestic stores, which range from the 59th Street flagship and “A” stores such as Chicago and Roosevelt Field on Long Island to smaller concept stores such as SoHo in New York and Santa Monica in California.

“I wish there were 15 more of them,” Fisher said of the smaller, more edited stores, which lean toward a more contemporary offering.

The challenge is how to translate the Bloomingdale’s message to the stores in the middle — large stores in suburban markets like King of Prussia in Pennsylvania. “These more midtier stores require a different balance of price points and a different balance of classic and contemporary,” he said. He said the Beverly Center store in Los Angeles is “almost 100 percent contemporary,” while the Short Hills, N.J., unit is “almost 100 percent classic.”

So while the customers might change, Fisher said there is a “certain list of resources” that is consistent in all the stores, such as Ralph Lauren, Theory, Hugo Boss, Seven For All Mankind, True Religion, Joe’s Jeans, Burberry, Ferragamo and The Men’s Store at Bloomingdale’s. Moncler for outerwear and Calvin Klein underwear are also universal brands that help represent the Bloomingdale’s DNA, he said.

While the backbone of the brand mix is essentially set, there are always additions and subtractions based on the strength of collections and fluctuating fashion trends.

But beyond the mix, Fisher admitted there’s still work to be done in other areas.

“We need to improve our service standard,” he said. “Some customers need a lot of help and others don’t. We have to better separate them and give service to the people who need it.”

Additionally, “our marketing efforts need to evolve,” moving more toward digital than direct mail.

With customers turning more and more to online shopping, Fisher said Bloomingdale’s also “needs to do a better job in-store replicating what we do online.” For example, if a man is looking for a pair of black pants, the online offering will pull up a variety of choices with descriptions of each item and multiple views. “What if we put a 60-inch screen in the pants department of the store,” he said. “That would improve the selling of the product. It’s a big volume opportunity.”

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