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Building a Team for Success – Blog #90

Building a Team for Success

In Blog 89 I talked about quality, value and selection. In this blog I wanted to talk about building a team for success.

Our business with Rick & Moda Spana was on fire. There was also talk about the “Reseda” style being an Anniversary selection. Rick agreed to expand the size selection to more colors, which would be perfect for the Anniversary event. I became the “Lead Buyer” for the East Bay region which meant I helped coordinate the direction for our three stores. I became the Moda Spana lead for all of  Nordstrom as well. Each lead took a brand to be responsible for.

Meanwhile we were developing quite the team. With so many positive things going on with the selection that was available, I wanted to make sure we had the team to sell it. Aaron, who was our stock guy and I would have very in depth conversations in the back room. I kept thinking to myself, this guy should be selling…

The Pitch

I approached Aaron the next morning and told him how much he could make on the floor. “I’m just a roofer from Wisconsin” he said. I explained to him how he knew the merchandise better than anybody on the floor and how he could make twice what he’s making now. “Why don’t you try it for a day”. His first customer was a very attractive and flirty woman. The whole team was watching him sell to her. He was great!

As he was putting his shoes away, I grabbed him in the backroom. “What do you think?”. “I think I’m going to like selling on the floor, he said with a big grin. I was right about him, if he was a machine in the backroom he was an amazing salesperson on the floor. He quickly got on pace for the Pacesetter program.

The Guantlet

Now I just need a few more like him, I thought. I mentioned before when I took the job in 1991 we were in the top 20 in overall volume. Now this year because of the mix of hot items and building a great team of people we were in the top 10. I threw the gauntlet down to the #2 store and we were quickly catching up to them hitting the #2 spot each month more frequently now.

The # 1 store was so far ahead of everyone it would be a miracle to beat them, so we were ok with being #2. The buyer for San Francisco’s name was Jon.Jon was a legend in Brass Plum shoes. He bought pretty much everything. His floor always looked amazing. He was a great guy too. I always enjoyed our conversations as he was a character.

The team really enjoyed the competition and it was exciting to see the monthly reports on how well we were doing in the company. So we had a meeting and I asked everyone to shout out “We’re #3!”.How does that sound? I asked. Lets beat those guys! Lets hit our goal and be #2 in the company!

We were deep into the challenge now…

“You don’t build a business. You build people and then people build the business.”

Zig Ziglar


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Quality Value and Selection – Blog #89

Quality Value and Selection

In Blog 88 I talked about finding the next big brand. In this blog I wanted to talk about Quality Value and Selection.

Jean Claude wanted to put together a All Store meeting but with a twist. He had a vision of a magical land like the “Wizard of Oz” and the main character was looking an answer to a question. “What are customers looking for?”

I was nominated to be the “Tin Man”. My 1st Asst. Derek was to play the main character. Alfredo from Ladies shoes was to be the lion and another person was the Scarecrow. “Ok, I forgot who it was alright”.

The store display team created the environment and we rented costumes for the characters. I wrote my lines on the back of the axe in case I forgot.

The play started with Derek going to the good witch asking what customers are looking for. His mission was to ask different characters for the answers. It was totally cheesy but we had a great time.

I tried to inject some clean humor when it was my turn to speak. People were laughing, whether it was with me or at me was a question but I was okay with either.

The Finale

The three answers were Quality, Value and Selection. Jean Claude was the wizard and at the end explained how important it was for our customers to find all three in our store.

This was right in line with what I was trying to accomplish this year so I loved it. I tried my best to offer great brands with a good value and have the best selection. That’s why I bought the Moda Spana brand in the last blog. There were other brands out there that had the style but were always on sale. This would put into question what the “real” price should be.

This new brand also offered sizes and widths that weren’t too common with other brands so it was a point of difference. I remember the case packs to this day. They have several in the regular sizes and special case packs just in sizes over 10.

A case pack is a pre-determined size run that some brands offer. It gets challenging as a buyer to figure out the correct mix of case packs to get the size run you want. This brand had quite a few so it was easier to mix and match to your needs.

This play was a great example of what we were trying to accomplish for our customers. We had fun in the process too!

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Steve Jobs


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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The Next Big brand – Blog #88

The Next Big brand

In Blog 87 I talked about fatherhood again with the birth of Jennifer. In this blog I wanted to talk about the next big brand.

So the competitive landscape was pretty intense in the early 90’s. There seemed to be a “Sale” every Wednesday for some retailers and even naming the event after a flower? Regardless I was searching for a new item or brand that I could grow. I made it a habit of looking at the hot sellers reports for the company.

One style that stuck out was the “Reseda” from Moda Spana. It was a relatively new brand to the market and was made in China. At this time China wasn’t the player it is today surpassing 70% of the footwear supply. I decided to call the company and ended up talking to the President whose name was Rick.

The Call

Rick explained how China was growing into a future powerhouse and the factories there utilized a lot of technology used in Italy, Spain and Brazil. The brand had very stylish items and boasted sizes up to 13 in a lot of the styles. Wide & Narrow widths were also available.

This could be big I thought. Only one style is getting noticed out there but they have a whole line of great items and sizes too. I set up a meeting with Rick the next week.

Rick was a great guy to work with, he listened to what I was trying to do and said they could probably add additional widths and sizes if we could get it going. He showed me how he goes about building the line with 100’s of pictures he’d take from all his travels around the globe. This guy is good. We developed a great friendship and still are close friends to this day.

There were other brands that were on sale every other week so I thought this could be a great opportunity. I decided to bring in a table of items which was about 6-10 different styles in a few colors each.

The brand landed a few weeks later and the Reseda was already one of my top sellers. I bought “All” the styles they had available in just the sizes over 10 to offer a better mix of selection for these hard to find sizes. I would put a size 4 on the table in a left and a size 13 in the right to show the different sizes we carried.

It was becoming a huge success for us…

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” —Mary Lou Cook


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Focus on the Solutions – Blog #86

Focus on the Solutions

In Blog 85, I talked about my Buyer of the month recognition. In this blog I wanted to talk about how to focus on the solutions.

So we had been preparing for the Anniversary sale for a while now and tomorrow was the big day. We were ready. The team had all our sections organized by sale items in front of the stockroom for easy access. We schedule everyone’s lunch hours so we would always be covered. Only one thing was an unknown. Diane was pregnant with our second child and due any moment…

I left early the next morning and told Diane to call the store if anything happened. We also had our neighbors informed too. the store opens like normal and we were on fire. We were so busy it was crazy. It was awesome but crazy. Then it happened…


We heard a loud pop and all the lights in the store went out. The phones were also dead. What if Diane is trying to call me? I ran next door to See’s Candies and told them what happened and if a frantic person calls saying she’s in labor to come get me. They laughed and agreed, which put my mind somewhat at ease. Now the business solution.

Pitch Dark

It was pitch dark in the stockroom so we opened up some back doors and had our stock guy keep a lookout. We also rounded up all the flashlights we could get and had a team help the salespeople find the shoes. Luckily the sale shoes were up front. It was unbelievable. We got through it though and still managed to have a halfway decent day.

We couldn’t even ring anything up because the registers were dead, so everything was manually done. When the lights went back on, the cashiers started ringing stuff up in the training rooms to catch us up.

We survived it. Jean Claude made everyone t-Shirts that said “ I Survived the Blackout” Nordstrom Arden Fair

 “Focus on the solution, not on the problem.” Jim Rohn



…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Buyer of the Month Recognition – Blog #85

Buyer of the Month Recognition

In Blog 84,I talked about how Hot items make the difference. In this blog I wanted to talk about my buyer of the Month recognition.

So we have had some pretty big wins over the last few months. We identified several hot items and figured out a way to never miss a sale. We hired some great people and our business was on fire,

Rob’s nomination

Rob comes in one day and tells me he nominated me for “Buyer of the Month”. Of course it was after a brutal stock walk. I thought we had it dialed but he always seemed to find things. He says “ Mikey boy, Buyer of the month is a pretty big deal but you deserve it”.

I was floored. I wasn’t trying to do things to be recognized, just putting into play things I’ve learned from my mentors over the years. It was working…

Earlier that year

Earlier in the year I challenged the buyer in South Coast Plaza. I called him up and said we were a store on the rise. We were ranked in the top 10 this year after being ranked #20 when I took over. He was ranked #2 so I said “At the end of the year, you will be #3 and we will be #2. All he could get out was “Who is this again?”. We took number 2 for May for the very first time. Of course the challenge was at the end of the year so we needed to make sure we kept up the momentum.

The Recognition meeting

At the next recognition meeting I wasn’t sure if I was going to be the buyer of the month or not just that I was nominated. That in it self was nice. So it came down to the announcement. For some sappy reason I felt like I was at an award ceremony like the Oscars waiting to see if I won.

When my name was called out I was stunned. This is really cool, all the hard work paid off. The feeling I felt in that moment was priceless. Rob looked like a proud papa which made me smile. Jim Nordstrom came over and shook my hand. “Way to go Mike” he said. It was a proud moment and I made sure to thank the team when I got back. I later got a nice letter from Jim recognizing the achievement.

Buyer of the month recognition

This taught me a huge lesson in the importance of hot items and how to maximize them. Our business was on fire and we were a store on the rise. It was great to be recognized for all the hard work we did

Appreciate everything your associates do for the business.

Sam Walton 



…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Hot items make the difference – Blog #84

Hot Items Make the Difference

In Blog 83 I talked about why knowledge is power. In this blog I wanted to talk about how hot items make the difference.

So we already had success in a bunch of hot items and did a pretty good job at keeping them in stock. Another hot trend was the Sam & Libby ballet flat. It was a simple flat that came in a wide array of colors. It was really hot, everyone wanted a pair. At the same time Sam & Libby went public. To celebrate they came out with a bunch of different versions of the classic ballet flat.

There was also the personal side of their relationship that made big news. “Libby is the balance to everything I do; she’s my muse,” said Sam. “Living up to her standards isn’t always easy, but in the end, my goal is always to live up to what she represents in the world.”

The styles were so hot we had sections of the brand in so many different colors. We even had salespeople from the women’s floor coming over to our side.Mostly because their customers wanted a pair, in addition to what they were buying on the women’s side. It was a great time. I had the pleasure to launch Sam’s new line years later called Sam Edelman at Zappos. It was also a huge success. I’ve developed a nice relationship with both Sam & Libby which has been great. 

Success story

The Converse All-Star I brought into BP shoes became a corporate success story. It was picked to be included in our Anniversary Sale in July. I was really proud that we had done so well and it inspired others to follow suit.

Great items come and go and there usually is a life span for each. The Converse All-Star is one of those that’s been around for a long time. When it becomes a fashion trend it increases the demand. Hot items make the difference.The Sam & Libby ballet flat quickly became a staple in women’s shoe wardrobe and  also had a long run.

Then there are the trends that come and go, the trick is to identify when to shut it down. That’s the fun part of buying

Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.

Seth Godin



…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Why Knowledge is Power – Blog #83

Why Knowledge is Power

In Blog 82 I talked about My Mentor Robs influence. In this blog I wanted to talk about Why Knowledge is power.

So one of the big things I learned from Rob was doing a proper stock walk. A stock walk is when you physically go into the stockroom and go down each aisle to make sure you have your key items and sizes in stock. In a retail store its also good to make notes of things that are out of order. I even do this today in a more virtual way.

So not too long after I got downstairs to Brass Plum shoes, Steve left the company. I was really sad to see him go as he gave me a new start in the Arden Fair store and he was just a great guy. I learned a lot from him to about how to treat your people. Steve would have us over sometimes for get- togethers at his home. He was a really warm and friendly guy and we have a nice relationship to this day.


So Rob promotes Kaaren into the Women’s shoes position. She had a lot of knowledge being at Nordstrom for a while and was a great merchant. We hit it off right off the bat. She was funny and was great with people. She had a great style to her that people respected.

Nordstrom University

I get a call from Rob one day and he says “Mikey boy”, we are going to put all the buyers in the region through a “Nordstrom University” program. We will talk about how to run the business the right way and how to manage people effectively.

One of the topics was actually how to listen to people. It was a great program and I learned a lot from it. I use a lot of the things from these courses even today.This is why knowledge is power. It helps you make informed decisions.

I said earlier that one of the most important things Rob taught me was the stock walk. It was, but it was part of the bigger picture of how important knowledge of your business is. There are so many facets to running an effective business and everyone should be hungry to learn more, always…If you don’t know the answer or are stumped on how to improve your business, figure out how to get there. This why Knowledge is Power

He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger. Confucius



…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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My Mentor Rob’s Influence – Blog #82

My Mentor Rob's influence

In blog 81 I talked about how vendor relations are important. In this blog I wanted to talk about  my Mentor Rob’s Influence on me into the narrow and deep philosophy.

I met “Retail Rob” in 1989. He was my merchandise manager at Nordstrom in Women’s shoes. I would say one of the biggest influences of my success over the years I learned from him. “Narrow and deep Mikey boy”. Don’t miss a sale on your hot items. Create a never out in your 80/20 items.these were drilled in my head over and over. He was intense but never mean. Rob had high expectations but never unreasonable, ok maybe sometimes…

It’s funny though I didn’t really “see it”  until he promoted me to the Brass Plum Shoes Buyer job. I appreciated the faith he had in me and I wanted to make him proud. I took a lot of notes and asked even more questions. Some of the visits were brutal. Especially when his face started turning red, lol. But I learned a ton and am forever grateful. 

The next day

After a brutal visit there was always the kind, nurturing mentor I learned from. He had a big heart in that way. He would flip into some sort of “super hero” and all the knowledge he learned over the years he would try to coach and teach. Sometimes he’d talk so fast trying to get it all out I’d have to tell him to slow down.

We had our moments though, I remember one day he came in and said “we need to look at your PO book because you’re way fuckin’ over bought.”. I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around and said “well maybe if you’d stop fuckin’ buying stuff and not telling me, we wouldn’t have this problem”. He looked confused, so I showed him dozens of PO’s he wrote that I flagged because he didn’t tell me. “Yeah but it’s all good stuff” he said with a boyish smile. We had a good laugh over that.

Influence 101

When I say my Mentor Rob’s influence, its really how he’d go over how to identify the 80/20 styles and how to take smart risks. This got me to see the big picture. He usually referenced his time in Valley Fair and how he grew that business.  I pretty much did a lot of things he’d tell me from his “old days” as a buyer and it worked out great for me. 

Thats why I had sections of Doc Martens, Converse All-Stars, Guess western booties and many, many more great items over the years. I used this philosophy and coach my buyers to do this today.

Larger than Life

His personality sometimes was larger than life. If he took over being the floor watching duties it was pure showmanship. It was a site to see and I loved every minute of it. Even better was at the bar later. I learned the hard way you don’t try to keep up with Rob and to count your drinks or your next day could be painful. But it was always a good time.

Future Rob

I had the good fortune to work with Rob many years later at Zappos in 2004 and we had just as much fun. It was a proud moment for me to show him what I learned from him and how important he was in my growth as a buyer.

People like Rob and my other previous mentors like Gail and Martha come once in a lifetime. The key advice is to listen. I can only hope that someday far in the future an Old shoe dog will remember me this way.

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill



…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Vendor Relations are Important – Blog #81

Vendor Relations are Important

In Blog 81, I talked about how to maximized hot items. In this blog I wanted to talk about why Vendor Relations are Important.


So I called Converse and brought in a table of Converse All-Stars. I bought the high tops and the low tops and brought in an array of colors from bright pink to the basics. They were an immediate hit. The Converse reps name was Tony and he was a great guy to work with. He came out and helped me pick the best items.


Our Dr. Marten business was growing pretty  big too. We went from having just a few sections in the back to several sections. Ed who was the rep was also a great guy. He brought his Harley onto the floor for a trunk show one day and we had so much fun with him. He was really funny and super passionate about his business. The salespeople loved it. The front window display had his product too with a chain link fence background. It was really cool.


I had mentioned our western booties were on fire and the President of Guess, Joe and I quickly became friends. He was great to work with and kind of took me under his care to make sure I had enough product. We sold so many it was crazy. In turn whenever he had a new line to show me I tried my best to support him too. Even to this day we are good friends.

You can’t be friends with everyone but it sure makes everything more fun when you have people you like to work with. It’s especially fun when you have hot items and try to maximize them together to improve your business on both sides.

I have said before but its worth repeating, people make the difference. Whether its your employees or the vendors you work with, treating people the way you would like to be treated goes a long way. I’ve always tried my best to have great relations with my vendor partners. Vendor relationships are so important.

If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.

Zig Ziglar


…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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Maximizing The Hot Items – Blog #80

Maximizing The Hot Items

In Blog 79  I talked about how to follow the golden rule In this blog I wanted to talk about how I went about maximizing the hot Items.

I think part of being a good buyer is awareness. People say “you have to have a good eye” to be successful”. Bullshit…While it may be important to have an eye for fashion, you need to also have a good “ear” to listen to what is going on. You need to be aware of trends that are hot and react. You also have to trust your gut.

Converse All-Stars

To this point, I was walking in the Arden Fair Mall taking a break and I kept noticing all these young girls wearing Converse All-Stars. We never carried them in the Brass Plum departments, they were carried in the Men’s department. I sat with that thought for a few days.

My morning routine was to get to work, set the floor and do a stock walk in the back. Check for any e-mails. After the store opened I would go out to the front where our Coffee bar was and get my double latte. Ronnie was our coffee guy at the time and he was amazing. Super friendly and was great to talk to in the morning to get your day started.

“Ronnie, have you been noticing a lot of girls wearing Converse All-Stars lately?”. He agreed and said he’s been seeing it more lately and a store in the mall had a full window display of them. I went down to the store and it was a “juniors” type store. Hmmm, I need to call Converse.

The Call

I called Converse and the rep told me they come in “uni-sex” sizing meaning both men’s and women’s sizes are on the shoe. They are made on a Men’s last so the fit is more full than a typical women’s size would be. A men’s medium is a “D” width and a woman’s medium is a “B” width. The conversion Is about 1 ½ sizes different.

“So I can buy them for my department then”, was my clarifying question. “Yes”.  So I bought a table of different colors and put them right up front. The response was amazing! They were definitely the hot item of the department.

Dr. Martens

At this same time, we had a few other trends that were going on. Grunge was a thing and the Dr. Marten boot and shoe styles were also the rage. They weren’t cheap, which our salespeople liked, so I looked at our monthly sales and the average inventory we stocked and figured out how much inventory I needed to not miss any sales. I told Aaron to make a few extra sections in the back for Doc Martens. We had a table of Doc Martens up front too with a few funky colors to spice up the table.


Another trend was western booties. I decided to own this business. We already had a pretty good business with Guess and Zodiac on the tall shafted boots so I called the reps for each brand and told them I wanted a monthly flow of the booties year round so I wouldn’t miss any sales.

Guess was one price point and Zodiac  was another. We also had a few styles from our NOL label (Nordstrom Own Label). It made for a nice display of this important trend too. I learned a valuable lesson here too.


There was a trend of woven shoes and the western trend too. Our NOL team came up with a woven bootie. We got it in and we sold thru 100 pairs of a 108 pair order in the first month. I decided to jump on this style and wrote 108 pair back-ups for three months.

The woven bootie trend died, but the western trend still lived on. For the next three months we got in these 108 pair backups and the team thought I had lost it. Why do you keep re-ordering these? Well when you buy a private label style you own it, because it’s made for you.

Steve Madden

There was also a “buzz” about this new brand that covered the grunge look with some great heeled Mary Jane type shoes called Steve Madden. I decided to jump on this new brand because a lot of people were talking about it.

To summarize, part of being a good buyer is identifying trends and styles in the market place. The other piece to it is how do I maximize the hot  items once I have called them out. Some of the process involves history of the brand and styles, while the other is your gut feeling. It’s the fun part of the job especially when you are right.

“Don’t be afraid to go with your gut. It’s there for a reason, and it’s usually right.” Anonymous



…just sharing my story and tips from my footwear career. 

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