Parsons School of Design in Manhattan is helping Macy’s train and educate its store merchants and execs. 

Macy’s is bringing new meaning to back-to-school.

Macy’s merchants are literally getting back in the classroom through an executive education program custom-created in conjunction with the New School’s Parsons School of Design. It’s geared for Macy’s merchandising team to hone their design and merchandising skills, figure out ways to improve the customer experience and tackle pressing issues confronting the industry.

It’s not a degree program, and there’s no grading or testing involved. It’s a partnership between New School’s Corporate Partnerships Initiative and Macy’s to bolster the retailer’s efforts at training and educating its Macy’s merchandising team, both new hires and experienced executives. Macy’s merchants will participate in at least one course on a quarterly basis.

The program also bolsters the curriculum of “Macy’s Fashion Academy” which was launched last spring for e-learning and classroom learning.

In other talent-building efforts, Macy’s this year relocated its executive training program from Cincinnati, where the company is based, to New York. And six months ago, a computer-based learning program called Ignite, covering hundreds of topics for Macy’s merchants, was introduced.

“We are definitely doubling down to make sure all of our teams are well trained,” Jeff Gennette, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s Inc., told WWD.

“We’re an omnichannel store for quality fashion at affordable prices, which has to be steered by great merchants. We are not going to take for granted the training, skills and inspiration required to achieve this. We all know there is, and always will be, a high consumer demand for fashion. It’s part of Macy’s wheelhouse.”

Gennette said the programming with Parsons includes master classes, panel discussions and round table discussions.

“There are pieces of the program geared for those who are new to the company and pieces of the program providing more advanced learning, like refresher courses,” for those working at Macy’s for some time.

“The skills and tools offered through this program will challenge our merchants to think critically and disrupt processes to ultimately improve and innovate the omnichannel customer experience,” said Patti Ongman, Macy’s chief merchandising officer.

Asked if it was mandatory for Macy’s execs to take the classes, Gennette replied: “This is not a hard sell. The classes we have set up are ‘selling out,’ meaning filling up. Our merchant teams are taking full advantage,” Gennette said, whether that means individuals are readily signing up on their own or being encouraged by those they report to.

Asked how much class time is involved, Gennette replied, “I expect every merchant will get some exposure to the courses in the first year; some will get lots of exposure, but it will vary.” And no one gets graded or tested, he assured. Sessions will be conducted both at Macy’s and Parsons facilities.

The program will be taught by Parsons faculty, including trend forecaster Li Edelkoort; designer, musician and author Keanan Duffty; customer experience strategist Christopher Lacy; fashion marketing and campaign expert Laura Lanteri, and others.

On Wednesday at Herald Square, the program kicks off with a panel discussing the consumer evolution, including the value of lifestyle, community, diversity, social engagement and social media.

Asked if he will be taking some refresher classes, Gennette replied, “I am kicking off the panel on Wednesday, but I will definitely pop into some.”

“A Parsons education prepares the next generation of designers and design strategists to innovate under conditions of constant change,” said Rachel Schreiber, executive dean of the New School’s Parsons School of Design. Parsons, she added, will offer “a multidisciplinary educational experience for Macy executives, designers and merchants.”

“For Macy’s what we have designed is truly innovative in its scope,” Dr. Schreiber said. “It’s very much bespoke.”

She said Macy’s designers, merchants, buyers and also executive-level c-suite types would participate in the program. “We have a real depth of knowledge we can offer,” on such topics as sustainability and what people are looking for in the garments they purchase.

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