By  on December 5, 2011

The career of Tony Spring at Bloomingdale’s, spanning merchandising, marketing, stores and operations, has been like a grand tour, taking him one step away from filling the top job.

Though it’s no guarantee, Spring, Bloomingdale’s 47-year-old president and chief operating officer, is widely considered the lead candidate to eventually succeed Michael Gould, who has had his eye on Spring for a long time. “Tony was the first person I promoted,” Gould said.

It happened shortly after Gould became Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive in 1991. “Tony came recommended by Lester Gribetz, who was running the home store,” and Spring was a buyer in home. “I felt strongly about Tony,” Gould recalled, enough to make him a divisional merchandise manager at a young age. “I saw the intellectual curiosity he had, even in my first conversations. There was this great energy drive, a sense of being really aggressive and having a great feel for the Bloomingdale’s brand and DNA. He was a housewares buyer, but I knew that wasn’t going to be his last stop. Some people thought he was too young. I wanted him there.”

Spring’s entire career has been with Bloomingdale’s. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management in 1987, he started as an executive trainee in the White Plains, N.Y., store as a sales manager. “I was attracted to Bloomingdale’s because there was a lot of fanfare and creativity and the unexpected and that piqued my curiosity. The brand has personality, it’s not quiet, it’s not so sophisticated, it’s an aspirational, accessible luxury store, that has a sense of humor.”

He quickly moved to the central organization as a buyer in cookware and cutlery, got the divisional job Gould tapped him for, and in 1995, was promoted again to senior vice president for home furnishings overseeing housewares, tabletop, stationery, linens and luggage. Two years later, he was named senior vice president for marketing, and a few years later rose to executive vice president, adding, Bloomingdale’s by Mail and restaurants to his responsibilities. He subsequently became senior executive vice president and director of stores, with added responsibility for Bloomingdale’s shopping services and creative services. In February 2008, he stepped up to president and chief operating officer, responsible for all stores as well as marketing, creative services, finance, operations and restaurants.

“I had a back and forth career between stores, merchandising and marketing. I wouldn’t say it’s normal,” Spring said. “I’ve been an eight, eight, eight kind of person,” eight years in each area.

A big part of his agenda has been to elevate the customer experience, where there is always room for improvement. Though consumers are time-pressed and often frustrated shopping, Spring’s response is interesting — slow down the transaction process. “If another store is trying to figure out how many transactions they can ring an hour as a determination of success, I would say we are looking at the quality of those transactions per hour,” he said. “If a sales associate can spend a half hour with you and have you spend ‘x’ amount, and feel great about the experience, versus having three people come through in an hour and spend ‘y’ amount, and feel like it was just a transaction, we would rather have the former. I would rather slow down the transaction with the intent of building relationships and make sure the first visit provided the foundation for you to want to come back.

“Product is the most important ingredient in our recipe. If you go to a restaurant and the food is lousy, but the service is good and the environment is good, you’re never going back. The same is true of our strategy at Bloomingdale’s. Sometimes we think marketing, selling and the store environment, it’s all to support for the merchandise, but it’s really to insure the best possible customer experience. We all work for the customer. It’s not that complicated.”

Spring has been very involved in efforts to help associates build relationships with customers, and use the tools that Bloomingdale’s provides, such as a point-of-sale clienteling tool called Be Connected, which provides associates with such information as what products and brands customers bought and how often they’ve been in the store. It’s from the store’s database, and also has information gathered by associates in the course of conversations with shoppers, like a birthday or anniversary.“It’s a combination of what we capture about purchasing and what [the associate] captures.” There also educational and leadership programs, Spring mentioned, that take employees off-site, and cover such topics as engaging customers, selling techniques, leadership and career opportunities. “We have focused on the importance of people. Merchandise is still king, the thing that customers comes to us most for. But the organization has been highly focused on cultivating talent.”

Spring, who starts his day in the office around 7:10 a.m. with a coffee and then looks at the numbers, said, “I don’t know if there is a typical day, but I will tell you what I am always trying to spend time with people. I am trying to be available to answer questions, review progress, give people feedback, and stretch them with challenging questions. Seeing people from the sales floor or the training program take on different roles and responsibility, and helping to support them, that’s the most rewarding part of the job.”

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