Anne-Laure Peytavin

[En] Tony Spring, Bloomingdale’s: « Relationship and kindness first, business comes after »

Retail

4 mai 2022

7 min

Like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s is a historic symbol of the New York experience. That is why FrenchFounders members felt excited and exclusive when they walked into the flagship store, privatized for the occasion on Lexington and 59th street on a rainy April morning. On the fifth floor, in the middle of iconic brands – Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci – they had the opportunity to listen to Tony Spring, CEO of Bloomingdale’s, and his thoughts about this challenging yet fascinating pandemic time.

From hospitality to retail

Tony Spring has been a member of the Bloomingdale’s family for a very long time, 35 years as he recalls. This native New Yorker wasn’t always attracted to retail, he studied hospitality at Cornell School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. « I decided to do my training program in a different field, where I could easily transfer my skills. Retail wasn’t as focused on customer love and experience back then ».

Kindness and relationship are our priority, the opportunity of business comes after.

The young student starts at Bloomingdale’s and falls in love with the company culture. « We’ve always had this understanding that we can teach people how to be nice and put the customers first. Kindness and relationship are our priority, the opportunity of business comes after ».

Home products, activewear and fragrances during Covid

But how to find these talents? A tricky question, especially in a full-employment market. « We ask a lot of behavioral questions, make sure we hire people who enjoy being around others. The key is to have multiples interviews, there’s no better way to know how one relates to people », explains the CEO.

After two years of profound disruption where people had to shop online, the challenge is also how to follow the new trends, and bring customers back to the shops. For Tony Spring, customers changed their habits during Covid, and Bloomingdale’s rallied around the new purchases centered on home products, activewear and fragrances (make-up and skincare were struggling with the mask mandates). « Now, people are moving excitedly to dressing up again. We are selling a record number of tuxedos and we have seen the largest number of wedding plans since 1984 ».

Importance of flexibility and optimized inventories

This pandemic time has taught important lessons. « Before Covid, we didn’t appreciate as much the importance of flexibility and how to optimize inventories. It was worth it because customers are buying at regular prices more than ever », says Tony Spring.

Our DNA is contemporary, we have more customers than before the pandemic in our 33 stores.

Other brands had unfortunate fates, with Barney’s or Lord & Taylor going into bankruptcy. But for its head, « Bloomingdale’s is in a good position to gain from this evolution. Our DNA is contemporary, we have more customers than before the pandemic in our 33 stores ».

For that, the brand is ready to evolve from older models. It launched a small format store, Bloomies, in Virginia and is going to open another one in Chicago. It wants to cover more of the country but also will be rigorous in its investments, and focus on customer demand. For Tony Burch, shops and online aren’t competitors. « Most of our digital shoppers are in a place where we have a store ».

What about the use of data ? It is a sensitive topic, acknowledges Tony Spring, customers expect them to know their tastes and habits, but there is an important balance to find between personalization and protection of private data. In any case, the data comes from the customer and is used comprehensively to better address them.

A brand also has to represent values nowadays, and Bloomingdale’s is active in its philanthropic work, but also in diversity and inclusion programs – though it’s not enough yet, according to him. Mentorship for the next generation, environmental policies on packaging and lighting for instance are now mandatory for a modern brand.

150 years later, more customization and better analytics

In the past, we took the customer for granted. Now, there is a graciousness, a relationship focus, we want to be the best destination for a shopper.

Another important milestone: Bloomingdale’s is going to celebrate its 150th anniversary this year, so what does it mean for its CEO? « It is a balancing of what we know and what we will be in the future, the brand winners haven’t given up what they are but are working toward what they want to be tomorrow ». That implies more customization, better-sized technology, better predictive analytics and, more broadly, a better idea of a personal life experience. « In the past, we took the customer for granted. Now, there is a graciousness, a relationship focus, we want to be the best destination for a shopper ».

During the Q&A, the audience had diverse questions to ask.

Benjamin Auzimour from Saint-James wanted to know how the store rewards its merchants to take a certain level of risk. For the CEO, its retail list is like an investment portfolio that you need to manage actively. As a result, Bloomingdale’s launched 1400 brands and retired 400 others in the last year.

Charles Gorra, Founder of second-hand luxury accessories Rebag, asks about his vision on the resale market. Tony Spring recognizes that the circular economy is here to stay, the company dabbled in with a couple of partners but hasn’t found the right solution yet, and is still working on it.

Adjusted pay policies, more flexible schedules, quarterly bonuses

Then, the conversation moves on to the difficulties of hiring people in this economy. Tony Spring stresses how important it is for employers to speak candidly about how the work model changed for a lot of people during the pandemic. Bloomingdale’s has adapted, adjusted its pay policies, offered flexible schedules and given quarterly bonuses so that employees have “skin in the game”.

There is a human and tactile element to our business, that’s why it is also important to invest in our physical stores to maintain the experience.

An attendee attempts a little provocation in comparing the department store business to publishing. Tony Burch agrees the sector needs to reinvent itself: « We should have half as any malls in the country. The mediocre stores are going to go away ». But he also points at the number of stores Apple, a tech company, opened to benefit from the interactions with clients. « There is a human and tactile element to our business, that’s why it is also important to invest in our physical stores to maintain the experience ». Tony Birch recognizes Bloomingdale’s needs to always do better and is coaching its talents, both in attitude and skills, for that.

His conclusion: « Overall, I’d give us a B minus, there is still room for improvement. But I give us an A for our engagement », he adds with a smile.

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