Embodying the Story through Trends

Week 6: Embodying the Trends (Story)

This week I attended two roundtables at Bloomingdale’s: one with the divisional merchandise managers (DMMs) in my specific shadowing area (Ready to Wear) and the General Merchandise Managers (GMMs). The five GMMs that I met with oversaw different departments such as RTW, Concessions and .COM; home, men and kids, and shoes and planning. They all had 20+ years in the retail business and all but one of them started their career at Bloomingdale’s – a couple even in the same internship program that I am in! One of my favorite parts of this week was that the DMM roundtable consisted of all business women. It was inspiring to be in such a small setting (5 DMMs and 5 interns) so that we could ask for career advice.

When I was listening to both the DMMs and GMMs this week, I recognized a common theme that they all brought up as their main focus of their position: the importance of developing and embodying a story as leader for the 30+ stores located throughout the World. The importance of the Garner’s definition of leadership and theory of leader’s storytelling is exactly what the DMMs and GMMs, in particular, are responsible for in their day to day leadership. The GMMs (and all employees at Bloomingdales from the merchant and store world) aspire to make not only Bloomingdale’s “like no other store in the world” – their mantra – but also they aspire to be the leader in the retail industry, especially with respect to trends. The DMMs and GMMs relayed that they hope “she” (they refer to the customer as she/her) walks into Bloomingdale’s anywhere in the World and is able to pick up what the trends are and what she must buy according to the “story” that Bloomingdale’s wants to tell. However, being able to tell and embody a story in a full-line department story is incredibly difficult and requires massive coordination from leadership that begins with the GMMs.

The process of creating and embodying a story begins with the fashion office who makes recommendations to the GMMs on what they forecast the trends will be for the next season. The GMMs, from home to women’s shoes, will meet to discuss what they want their trends to be for the season and what their story will be. Once they agree on the story then they will relay this information to the DMMs of each division who is responsible for relaying it to hundreds of people on their buying teams. Therefore, when the buyers and planners go to market they know they need to select merchandise that relays the story (yes, even in home) and buy enough so that the theme is evident to the customer without her having to think! But it does not even end here! The social media team, the marketing team, the stores team and other departments and teams. Because the stores need to portray this consistency of story among all departments there are regular meetings (style outs), educational meetings and check-ins throughout the season. There needs to me communication and coordination at all time through all departments. But most importantly each leader (in particular the GMMs) of varying levels need to embody this story they want to tell so that their reports will sense the passion and devotion and believe and embody it.

As I mentioned, it all begins with the highest leader (GMMs) embodying the story that they are telling. As leaders they are expected to be in unison so that what is displayed in kids is also displayed in men’s clothing. They are also expected to believe in the story they are telling by physically embodying the trends (wearing it) and believing in it, from interacting with their buyers to being in the store selling to customers. The theory of embodying the story so that everyone below them buys into it is extremely effective and you can tell from walking into the flagship store. For example, the story they were telling this season was animal prints. When you walked into any department you would see a feature of animal print and salespeople would talk passionately about it. This would not have been as clear if the GMMs had not embodied themselves as “trendy” people who own animal print and the buyers/planners did not buy the merchandise or if the store team did not display it front and center on flagship. I think that the GMM’s have been successful in embodying their story, as evidenced by the success of animal print. I strongly think that Bloomingdale’s has contributed to the abundance animal print that I see walking the streets of NYC – they are successfully telling “her” what she needs to have to “be trendy” which is there ultimate objective. The place where the theory falls short in “embodying” a story is how do you get salespeople (i.e. people who aren’t as involved in deciding the story and buying the merchandise) to also embody the story because they might feel more removed from the GMMs who are the ones telling the story. I think that a more top-down and transactional leadership style could be more effective. The input of sales people, who really are the ones on the floor talking and interacting to “her”, should be valued on what they think the story should be since they are truly the ones who know the customer best.