What Does It Take For a Gigantic Retailer To Succeed in 2018? One Merchandiser Tells Us.

Ruthie Friedlander

Last week, everyone’s favorite retailer, Nordstrom, opened their first men’s store in New York City with a cocktail party filled with a healthy mix of fashion elite (Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Marcus Wainwright, David Neville, to name a few …) and Nordstrom family executives (Pete, Blake, Eric, and Jamie Nordstrom were all in attendance.)

This marks the first-ever stand-alone men’s store for the retailer and the first full-line store in Manhattan. But it’s not solely that Nordstrom opened that caused a stir. The Nordstrom Men’s Store offers brands you know and love, and ones you maybe have never heard of (yet). It has exclusive brands and products, and, like all things Nordstrom, gives you just about everything you could imagine wanting from denim to suits to headphones and shaving cream.

It takes a bit of je ne sais quoi to get excited about a store opening these days. Isn’t it easier just to shop it all online, anyway? It's 2018, people. Haven't you heard that retail is dead?

Well, no. As a self-proclaimed shopping addict, I can vouch for the fact that retail is not dead. Not if you want an experience. And an experience is just what Nordstrom is successfully offering its customers with this opening.

“There are so many facts that I could probably share,” Paige Thomas, Nordstrom’s EVP and General Merchandise Manager for Men's and Kids told InStyle over the phone.

Thomas, who has been at Nordstrom since 2012, jumped around a lot in different businesses early on in her career, but from a buying and merchandising perspective, most of her career was spent in women’s accessories and beauty. An internal retirement and ever-growing interest in the change and evolution of the men’s business is what led her to take real charge in the men’s sector.

“I think it’s appropriate to have new points of view and a willingness to change and drive the evolution. This “guy” is not dressing in a traditional way and building his closet how he used to. Suits can be worn with tennis shoes.”

Gender in itself is a hot topic within the fashion industry, with brands creating non-binary collections and embracing genderless fashion, overall. “We’re responding to what’s happening in fashion and we’re responding to what the customer is actually purchasing,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot of flexibility for people to cross-shop. You could have a Levi’s ‘Trucker’ jacket in women’s and you could have a Levi’s ‘Trucker’ jacket in men’s.”

But back to the store.

“On average, north of 50 percent of our customers’ purchases have been researched online but purchased in store. To actually have a live experience and touch the product and make that final decision. That happens in the store.”

And live experiences are a touchstone of what makes the Men’s Store in New York special.

“We’re pretty excited about the Levi’s personalization zone that has the capability to do simple things like hemming while you wait, to stitching your name, to doing a full back embroidery on a Trucker jacket with patches,” Thomas said. “We also have a digital experience in the clothing area to support Made to Measure. A customer along with a sales associate can scan a swatch and see a full model avatar with the pattern come onto the screen to really get a feel for what [the suit] could look like head to toe.”

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But why not just do the monogramming online and the swatch photoshopping in the comfort of your sweats at home?

“Brick and mortar stores, they’re not going away. They deliver a service model and an experience that can’t come to life online,” Thompson confidently said. “The online [store] serves [a specific] customer’s needs, based on how and when they want to shop. The customer doesn’t choose one [or the other]. The reality is, they want to be engaged with the retail brand of Nordstrom, and we want to be able to [offer that] in many different ways.” Both online and off.