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Student Story: Trend at its Finest

Consumer Science 250: Retail Leadership Symposium

On October 4th, the Retail Leadership Symposium class welcomed Melody Wright, Chief Operating Officer of Von Maur. Alongside her was Amy Rotert, Vice President of Stores and Security, and Gayle Haun, Director of Human Resources. Melody began working with Von Maur in 1996, holding various leadership positions before earning her current role in 2009. With over 20 years of experience in retail, Melody owes her success to hard-work and time put into elevating her career. She is responsible for Von Maur’s extensive operations and thanks to her, Von Maur is continuing to grow. At Von Maur, they stay true to their philosophy to offer unique product and top-notch customer service.

The first Von Maur store originated in Davenport, IA in the late 1800’s, opened by the Von Maur family itself. The location was a 20 by 50 foot room, however this small space was where the Von Maur values and legacy was cultivated which later led to its large successes. Throughout the years, Von Maur has grown as a company to offer the latest clothing, beauty, gifts, and shoes in style. They emphasize their creation of a unique experience through customer service. Today, Jim Von Maur, fourth generation of the original Von Maur family, still oversees operations at the family company. The company has grown to having 32 stores in 14 different states.

Wide selection of brand named merchandise, open and attractive store design, amenities that enhance the customer experience, commitment to excellent customer service

Getting the Right Product
Von Maur prides itself on being less promotional than other brands. They prioritize every customer by getting the best merchandise at all price points allowing them to have loyal customers without pricey promotions. Customers come to Von Maur because of their personalized service rather than their promotions. A memorable shopping experience both proves and showcases the values that Von Maur continues to follow.

A Personalized Department Store
Even though Von Maur carries a wide assortment of products, it focuses on providing a personalized shopping experience specific to each customer.

Beyond their world-class customer service amenities like an interest free charge card and free gift wrapping, Von Maur’s goal is for the customer to leave the store remembering where they bought their product and where to go if they need something else. As one of the last independent, family-owned and operated department stores, it makes a large space feel small. With more associates than customers in the store, it ensures that each customer will feel welcomed and help them create their own personal shopping experience. By having 32 stores in 14 states, a loyal community of customers can be gained. When shopping at Von Maur, the personal interaction between guests and store associates creates a true personalized shopping experience. Paired with a high-quality shopping assortment, the store shopping experience at Von Maur is among the best in the retail industry.

Von Maur Store Interactive Case Study on Strategic Planning
With the continual success of Von Maur, they have acquired some competition. Being a company that values trend, they have already started to build renovation plans to enhance their stores. It is important to them for their stores to reflect their company values and appeal to the modern day guests by staying up-to-date in every fashion.  

Following Von Muar’s presentation, the speakers introduced a case study to the class on a real challenge Von Maur stores are currently dealing with. Given a budget of $6 million, it was the students’ task to choose which Von Maur locations and what specific departments to renovate. Resources for the case study included a packet of renovation ideas for each department along with prices for the renovation. On the left was a picture of the current layout and on the right was the proposed look. Another integral resource were the different store locations considered for renovation including:

  • Total volume of the location compared to others
  • Volume that each department contributes to overall store volume
  • Age of the store
  • Store environment – competitors, configuration of the mall around it
  • Cost efficiency

Participating in the case study highlighted the importance of decisions in the industry when there is a budget.  It also taught students and let the presenters know what factors people find more important to consider than others. After working through the case study in groups, students were encouraged to share their thought process with Melody, Amy, and Gayle.  This exercise proved beneficial to both the students and the Von Maur team as they were genuinely curious to hear our thoughts and insights.

Career Opportunities at Von Maur
Based out of Davenport, Iowa, Von Maur offers great career opportunities to retail majors as well other college graduates.  As one of the last family owned and operated stores, when joining the Von Maur team, you are joining a family of like-minded professionals passionate about retail. Their executive training program is a great option for graduating students interested in both buying and store operations.  Offering comprehensive and in-depth experiences, job shadows, and presentations, Von Maur is dedicated to developing executives to be promoted into buying and store management positions. If you are interested in working with quality fashion products and want to challenge yourself with a rewarding career, Von Maur Careers has many opportunities to meet the needs of upcoming graduates.

Concluding Thoughts
Melody Wright really stressed to our class about the importance of believing in what you do.  Doing as much as you can daily to achieve your goals will make you more successful in the long run than you ever could have imagined.  If you don’t believe in your company, you are setting yourself up for failure. Believing is succeeding in the retail industry and Von Maur’s success has proved just this since the late 1800s and ongoing.  

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