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Strategy: Nordstrom just opened its first store just for men — here’s what it’s like to shop there (JWN)
PublishedBy: in Business Insider/StrategyApril 12, 2018

Nordstrom's new concept seeks to make stores relevant again.

Nordstrom's new menswear store offers in-house services such as tailoring and customization.

  • Nordstrom opened its first menswear-only store in New York City on Thursday.
  • The store combines in-store services such as tailoring, shoe shining, and food, with high-tech digital ordering and returns systems.
  • Co-president Blake Nordstrom acknowledged that the industry is in a period of change as retailers shutter stores and shopping shifts online, but told Business Insider that the company has a "real opportunity to do this right" with its new store.

Nordstrom is going against the grain and opening stores in prime neighborhoods of Manhattan while other retailers shutter. On Thursday, it opened its first menswear-only store near Columbus Circle, a block from Central Park.

"We've been looking for a store in Manhattan for 20 to 30 years," Blake Nordstrom, co-president of Nordstrom, told Business Insider at the store opening. Blake Nordstrom explained that previous locations had fallen through in the past. This time, they "got lucky," he said. "This the best place to be."

The new store — which is positioned next to a TJ Maxx, a direct competitor of Nordstrom's successful off-price chain, Nordstrom Rack — is seeking to be ahead of the curve in a sector that is evolving at a rapid rate. It does so by offering a wide range of services, such as tailoring and shoe shining, in-store.

A womenswear store will join it across the street in the fall of 2019, though these are the only stores of their kind the company has planned.

In recent years, Nordstrom's e-commerce platform and its off-price stores have outshined its full-price stores, where same-store sales numbers have steadily declined since 2014.

"We think there is a real opportunity if we do this right with all the change taking place," Blake Nordstrom said. "Retail is obviously changing, it's always changing. That's the nature of fashion."

The challenge now is to incorporate the success of its e-commerce platform into its stores.

"The level of transparency you have for fashion — where you can buy it, where you return it — has never been greater. You're really in control as the customer. As merchants, we need to have that functionality, that capability, otherwise, literally in seconds you can go somewhere else," he said.

Analysts say the company is well-poised to capitalize on the difficulties retailers are facing currently.

"If everyone is retrenching from physical store presence, that is the time to expand," Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer at Tigress Financial Partners, who has a "buy" position on Nordstrom, told Business Insider. "Especially if you have a good like this to do it."

We visited Nordstrom's new store to see what it's like to shop there:

The 47,000-square-foot store is located near Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York.

Across the way, there are signs informing shoppers of its next location for womenswear, which opens in the fall of 2019.

Blake Nordstrom told Business Insider that the company initially had plans to open a men's and women's store in the same building.

"We felt we didn't have enough space to do everything we wanted to," he said. "We wanted to be able to give men's the selection it deserves."

As soon as we walked in, the heavy concentration of sales assistants was obvious. "The men's market is underserved," Feinseth said. "And it's growing; millennials are focusing more on clothes."

There was a men's "fragrances and grooming" section at the front of the store. An entire wall was stocked with Le Labo fragrances. A 100ml bottle of these fragrances costs $270.

Shoppers have the chance to try on products in-store and have them gift-wrapped.

Next to the grooming section was a mini electronics section, booming out music.

The remaining section is taken up by denim.

One of the biggest perks of the store is its denim personalization bar. Customers can have their denim repaired, tailored, or customized with patches, studs, or a distressing effect, for example.

Next, we headed down to the lower floor, where you'll find clothing and shoes. There are three floors in total. There was a ton of choice on footwear here, ranging from less expensive brands such as Timberland …

… to expensive designer labels such as Christian Louboutin, Gucci, and Comme des Garcons.

This floor also stocked less-expensive clothing brands, such as Bonobos, Topman, and Nordstrom's own label, 1901. The prices here were competitive: A pair of chinos at 1901, for example, cost just under $70. Its summer linen shorts were $60.

The store is focused on offering an experience for its customers. "They are not just doing one thing. It is complete omnichannel," Feinseth said.

Customers have the option to buy online and pick up in-store, or reserve up to 10 items in advance on its app and have them ready and waiting to try on in the fitting room.

For $20, the store offers same-day delivery to any shoppers who live in Manhattan. A sales assistant explained to Business Insider that it's a way to get rid of the inconvenience of walking around town with endless shopping bags. You can also have any other bags you are carrying at that time delivered.

Nordstrom has found other innovative ways to make this store more of an experience for its shoppers.

You can even have your shoes shined.

We headed up to the top floor, where the focus is on designer clothing brands and made-to-measure suits and shirts.

Alterations are made in-house by a team of tailors. While the suits can be fitted to your size, there is no option to go bespoke.

The selection is definitely targeted towards a high-end customer.

The store combines in-store service with technology to make the experience more interactive.

It's also clearly finding other ways to draw in less enthusiastic shoppers: with alcohol and snacks.

The food is appropriately fancy. You can pick up a lobster roll for $23 or a charcuterie board for $20, for example.

It also lists the calorie content of each menu item, which we felt was an odd touch.

Just before we head out, we spot a handy returns system. Shoppers can nip into the store, scan their receipt, and insert the items in the box.

Our verdict: Overall, the shopping experience was great. The store was a good size, and it felt like a micro-department store with a curated selection of clothing and services, which was less intimidating than some of its larger stores.

The new store gives Nordstrom the chance to test out what works and what doesn't in anticipation of the opening of its women's store in the fall of 2019.

"I think this is a good business decision for Nordstrom. They have long sought the right location in Manhattan, and both stores will be within close proximity to one another. In addition to luring New York residents and tourist shoppers, this move will allow customers — especially men — to have a more streamlined shopping experience," Kathy Gersch, executive vice president at Kotter and a former Nordstrom executive, told Business Insider.

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