Joy Place is looking for novelty.
As vice president of merchandising for the Von Maur department store chain, she wants to know what people are buying and what they’re likely to buy in the future. That means scouring the internet and datasets, attending vendor meetings to learn about thousands of new products and brands, talking with his team of buyers to discuss what they’ve seen, and even shopping in the boutiques. local on weekends. The end goal is to organize the best possible assortment for its stores.
“If you’re in the retail business, especially on the buy side, you need to be all over social media and watching what the competition is doing, and we certainly have a lot of our own internal reporting so we can monitor things on a daily and weekly basis of what’s selling, what’s not selling, what’s up, what’s down,” Place said.[Part of the job] it’s just being aware, even, of the people you’re friends with and socializing with. What are they talking about? And what are they wearing? What are they asking? Where is everyone’s head right now? I think it’s about being open to all of this to understand how these [trends] apply to what we offer in our stores.
“There are so many neat products out there,” she continued. “Maybe they started because of social media. Everyone is on their phone and that’s how they shop right now. So there are so many brands you can find on Instagram and social media that are really intact. It’s just a unique thing that we can offer our customers to make our mix different from all the others.
“We’ve always had a bottom-up approach,” Place added. “It’s about expanding the assortment of brands that work well for us. If we experiment with a brand, it’s not uncommon for us to roll it out to all locations, if we can. We sometimes have this instinct and we go with it. If we feel like it’s something that’s going to be good for our business, we just do it and run with it.
Place entered her current role 10 years ago, but has worked for the Davenport, Iowa-based department store her entire working life.
“I loved it so much that my professional background led me to stay with Von Maur,” she said. “We have this little gem here in the Midwest.”
But that doesn’t mean the job comes without challenges. The retail industry has been nothing short of a non-stop roller coaster ride over the past few years. The pandemic, subsequent store closures, rapidly changing consumer preferences, inflation and macroeconomic headwinds are just some of the headwinds retailers have had to contend with. Being on the smallest size in the industry, with fewer resources to draw on, doesn’t help.
However, Von Maur’s differentiated customer proposition has helped it stay in business since 1872.
“We’re an independent store where we bring our own mix of merchandise depending on what kind of merchandise we’d like to carry,” Place explained. “That’s kind of the purpose of our store. We offer consumer brands that [you] would potentially find in a Dillard’s or a Macy’s. But we also offer many other brands that you will find in specialist shops. And then surrounded by other brands that are in store. We have many other products that the customer likes to see and cannot necessarily find elsewhere.
Current favorites include plenty of work and formal wear, such as men’s suits and dress shirts, women’s dresses and other ready-to-wear items, and what Place described as “daily at dinner”.
“Something that’s a bit more polite, we really see a great reaction from our client,” she said. “The giant [revenue] increases we were seeing in 2021, because of all the pent up efforts [consumer] request, which slowed down. There’s just a bit more thought in terms of buying. It’s probably just the consumer thinking a bit more, do I really need this now? Can I wait a little longer? Or maybe they’re waiting for a special occasion, rather than picking something up. [right away].
“The holidays are going to be very interesting,” Place continued. “We all wish we had that crystal ball of where customers’ headspace will be at that time. They’re still shopping, of course. But he might be buying a few things less this year.
Changing shopping habits aren’t the only hurdles facing retailers this season. There are also ongoing bottlenecks in the supply chain, delays at factories, fewer workers available, and simply less space in some cases to store goods. One of the advantages of not having his own private label, Place said, is that Von Maur is able to manage inventory levels because he is able to buy smaller lots.
“We’re also much more concerned with having seasonal deadlines where we know how long it takes, based on point A to point B, to get here, to get to our stores, if that’s still going to be viable. to the client at that time,” Place said. “And the suppliers are doing their best to try to get ahead of the delivery of products in the right season and on time. Because at the end of the day, everyone wants to do good business. But there are so many [unknowns]. It’s a juggling game right now. This is where the whole thing of juggling and constant evolution comes in. Because you just have to see what is thrown at you every day.
Von Maur also has a few other tricks up its sleeve, such as stores with wide-open floor plans, pops of color, antique decor, and even a live pianist in every venue.
“Our store environment is super open; it’s pretty. It’s luxurious. There is live piano music. It definitely lends itself to more of that high-end feel,” Place said. “We have a central field in each store with sofas and chairs and things like that. It is therefore also a good resting point if you are shopping with someone and want to rest a bit. You can hang out there with your bags and listen to live music and be on your way whenever you feel like it.
“Because it’s a large specialty store, you tend to cater to more of that family,” she added. “We really try to reach all consumers, so we strive to have merchandise for everyone. We welcome children from the start. They start shopping when they are babies with their mom. And it turns into that family experience when you go to the mall and hang out with your friends.
Granted, it helped the company not only weather the pandemic, but also endure 150 years in a notoriously difficult industry. Jim von Maur, president and CEO of Von Maur, told WWD in 2021 that the company generates around $1 billion in annual volume.
“The biggest part of being in retail, you just have to be flexible,” Place said. “It’s being open to evolution. You never know what’s happening to you, or what’s going on in the world. And it has certainly been a huge learning curve and experience for anyone in the industry over the past few years. Our strategy has always been to adjust slowly and steadily. We’re not making huge, major, significant changes to our business. We really listen to the customer and stay realistic about who we think is buying from our stores and who we know is buying from our stores. And make minor tweaks and tweaks necessary to pursue businesses a customer responds to. It’s about adapting to what’s happening at the time and being a support system for my team to provide as clear a direction as possible on what they need to do or what they need to stand on. focus. It’s ever-changing and ever-changing. So I think it’s just being open-minded about it all.
“I had so many big challenges based on the fact that retail is always changing,” she continued. “[But] I love coming to work every day. I like what I do. Every day is a different day and no day is a dull moment. There is always something happening and I am learning all the time. And I think that’s what interests me.