Burt Tansky knows the beauty of being in charge of Bergdorf Goodman. As one location, with a rich history and a rich clientele, it’s something a manager can really wrap his arms around.
“You can walk the store, meet all the sales associates, get to know the customers, and see instantly what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Tansky, who was chairman of Bergdorf’s from 1990 to 1994. Earlier, he was president of Saks Fifth Avenue, where he reported to the chief executive officer, so by joining Bergdorf’s, Tansky fulfilled his long-held ambition to run a major store. He emerged as the merchant prince of trading up, and he would never veer from that lane.
“Ira Neimark had been there for a long time and he brought it to the highest level possible and built a big customer base,” said Tansky. “So when I followed, I kept enhancing the store, adding new businesses and categories and capital investments. The business grew and grew.”
In 1994, Tansky moved to Dallas as ceo of Neiman Marcus Stores. Stephen Elkin, who was president and chief operating officer of Bergdorf’s, succeeded Tansky. Elkin left in 2000 in the middle of a comprehensive renovation program and had also been consolidating operations with the parent Neiman Marcus Group. He was succeeded by Ron Frasch, who ultimately joined Saks and was replaced by Jim Gold, a rising merchant at Neiman’s in Dallas. In 2003, Tansky was promoted to ceo of the Neiman Marcus Group, overseeing the Neiman’s operation as well as Bergdorf’s. But Tansky always kept a close eye on Bergdorf’s.
Tansky retired in October 2010. He has an apartment in New York, also lives in Florida’s Palm Beach Gardens, and still drops by Bergdorf’s to say hello or use an office. He plans to attend the 111th anniversary celebration.
“The store has gone through such phenomenal growth in the last 20 years,” Tansky said. “The amount of productivity is mind-boggling. It’s very, very high, maybe the highest of any store of that size,” being 150,000 square feet in the women’s store, 45,000 in the men’s store.
In the 22 years since he joined Bergdorf’s, “The standards have been upheld or improved. They’ve added new concepts and expanded key floors. They expanded virtually almost every product line. A great deal of capital has been put into the store. The entire store has been redone over the past 15 years. I think it looks terrific. Couture, European and American designers, eveningwear, the shoe business, the main floor jewelry, contemporary on five — these are all very powerful businesses. And the seventh floor [with home and the restaurant] is unique. And the personal shoppers are just incredible. All the sales associates are virtually personal shoppers. That strong adherence to customer service is one of the store’s real trademarks.”