Byline: Sharon Edelson
NEW YORK — While other retailers simply talk about providing good service, Nordstrom just does it.
The Seattle-based chain has built its service reputation on a philosophy that gives sales associates the independence to make customers happy. It is a service culture that has inspired fear and envy in other retailers, but has yet to be emulated successfully.
Nordstrom, which was founded by John W. Nordstrom in 1887, is still family run. Six co-presidents from the fourth generation have taken control of the company. They are the children of Bruce, John and the late James Nordstrom.
Nordstrom units range in size from 200,000 square feet to 250,000 square feet and do an average of $400 a square foot. Some of the chain’s top performers, however, can ring up sales of $500 to $800 a square foot.
The chain is one of the most sought-after anchors for shopping mall developers, who believe it can help draw customers deeper into the mall.
While other retailers rely on the matrix system, Nordstrom regional buyers place orders on a store-by-store basis to account for regional differences in customer demographics.
The chain’s price range is broad, spanning upper-moderate to designer with resources such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Ellen Tracy and Emanuel.
Private labels such as the Greta Garbo collection of better-to-bridge sportswear, career and eveningwear account for 25 percent of the merchandise mix.
Other “super brand” labels, meaning those lines that provide exclusives, include Faconnable, Calloway and Hickey Freeman.
At newer stores, such as the 172,000-square-foot unit at the Mall at Short Hills, in Short Hills, N.J., Nordstrom instituted “open-sell” displays in the cosmetics department and fragrance testing walls that allow customers to touch and sample the merchandise without assistance.
Many Nordstrom stores offer amenities such as the “personal touch” wardrobing service, “mother’s rooms” for changing babies, free gift wrapping, cafes and cappuccino bars, home deliveries and the signature Nordstrom piano player tinkling the ivories near an open seating area.
In the WWD survey, Nordstrom ranked fourth nationally this year, up from sixth place in 1994. It was the top-ranked chain in Los Angeles and among the top five in Chicago, Washington and San Francisco.
Nordstrom’s appeal is among college educated women, 50 to 64 years old, from households with incomes of more than $50,000. In terms of life stages, Nordstrom captures shoppers in all groups, but it is particularly popular with empty-nesters.
Not surprisingly, Nordstrom was the top-ranked chain for customer service, exchange and ambience and placed third for variety, selection, quality and fit.
Nordstrom, which had sales of $4.1 billion last year, operates 83 full-line stores in 18 states. For the last two years, Nordstrom has concentrated its expansion efforts in Texas, the New York area, Atlanta and Denver.
The company’s stores are characterized by wide, open aisles and uncluttered merchandise displays.
Shoes have always been a particularly strong category — the chain is known for carrying a selection of at least 140,000 pairs of shoes in each store — because executives believe the large inventories attract customers.
In February, Nordstrom opened its first Texas unit at the Galleria in Dallas and plans three or four more stores for Texas, including a unit at the North East Mall in Hurst and the NorthPark Mall in Dallas.
In 1997, Nordstrom will open stores in Santa Ana and San Diego, Calif; Bellevue, Wash.; Garden City, N.Y.; Farmington, Conn., and Beachwood, Ohio.
Stores are planned for Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Scottsdale, Ariz., in 1998.