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Good Man: Inside Josh Schulman's Big Plans for Bergdorf

Footwear is at the center of the executive's strategy.

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Inside the women's salon.

Photo By George Chinsee

Inside the women's salon.

Photo By George Chinsee

"I could spend all day on the floor just watching people. The energy here is one of a kind.”

That’s the sentiment from Joshua Schulman, who soaks up the scene inside Bergdorf Goodman’s venerable shoe salon on a busy Friday afternoon. The department store’s president greets his sales staff and shows off several exclusive Francesco Russo styles that have just arrived.

As he strolls through the space, Schulman immediately takes notice of what shoppers are picking up on this early spring day: “Look, she’s got Gianvito [Rossi],” he says proudly.

The executive relishes the opportunity to be at the center of the action, so it’s fitting that his office is six floors away. “There’s a great advantage to being right above the store. We look at a lot of reports and data, but nothing can match the experience of walking down to the floor, talking to the associates, meeting the customers, touching and feeling the product,” says Schulman, the former CEO of Jimmy Choo who also has held top roles at Gucci and Saint Laurent.

During his five-year stint at Choo, the executive helped craft and execute an aggressive growth plan that catapulted the label to the top of the luxury sector.

And Schulman isn’t wasting any time at Bergdorf, either. He has embarked on about 40 projects in his first two years on the job, among them an ambitious omnichannel push, a major men’s revamp and another expansion of the women’s shoe salon. “Working at a department store is much more of a jigsaw puzzle than when you are at a brand and have a singular vision,” he explained. “Here, you get a much broader view of the market.”

Now Schulman is plotting more big plans under a project called “BG 20/20” that will focus on the women’s business. He is working closely with a team that includes a mix of Bergdorf veterans such as fashion maven Linda Fargo, the store’s SVP of fashion office and store presentation, and Schulman’s own hires, including Tracy Margolies, the SVP and GMM of footwear, handbags, beauty and contemporary 5F who Schulman plucked from Saks Fifth Avenue. (Margolies started her career at Bergdorf.)

“In any company, it’s about the team you put together. They are the ones executing the vision,” said Schulman, who reports to Neiman Marcus Group President and CEO Karen Katz.

Part of Schulman’s vision includes fueling expansion in the hot footwear segment, which has always been a central focus in the women’s category. He is equally excited about the opportunity in men’s, a market that has taken off in the past few years.

“Obviously, I have a deep understanding and passion for shoes,” Schulman said. “It’s a business that has had tremendous innovation and that’s been important for Bergdorf. We were a pioneer in introducing the shoe salon as a more social setting. Clearly, that concept has taken flight.”

As major retailers here and abroad duke it out in the shoe floor wars, Schulman is determined to keep Bergdorf in a league of its own.

One of his first moves was to expand the women’s footwear space for the third time in recent years. The addition, which debuted a few months ago, evokes the same residential feel as the rest of the shoe salon. The new space is anchored by Chanel, while Valentino and Dior also get top billing. “One of the goals with the expansion was to improve the circulation,” Schulman said. “On a busy Saturday, the energy you feel at the top of the escalator now percolates throughout the entire floor.”

While the expansion helps pave the way for more growth, size is only one part of the equation for the executive. “We will never have the biggest shoe salon — or the biggest anything, frankly — because we have the smallest [footprint] of any of our competitors in the city or globally. What we have to win on is service, environment and product,” he said.

To that end, Margolies and DMM Nelli Terry are “laser focused” on what each brand means to Bergdorf, Schulman noted, and they’re editing the mix accordingly. “Our customer is at the center of everything we do, so when we look at a [style], we are agnostic about whether a shoe comes from a shoe brand or a ready-to-wear label. If it’s a great product, the customer responds,” he said.

One current standout is Italian designer Gianvito Rossi. “That is a brand the customer is choosing because of the product,” said Schulman. “It’s not because of flashy ad campaigns or celebrity placement. It’s simply beautiful product.”

He also cited Francesco Russo as another star in the making. “I usually defer to my merchant team, but in this case, we all walked in, saw the product and knew it was perfect for us,” Schulman said.

Other names creating serious buzz at the department store are Nicholas Kirkwood and Tabitha Simmons. “The LVMH investment can only be positive for the future of Nicholas’ brand,” Schulman said. “Tabitha is coming into her own. We’re excited about the way she’s grown as a designer.”

In fact, Schulman serves as Simmons’ mentor in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund program, which supports emerging talent.

“Josh is an incredible mentor. From the very beginning, he dedicated time to meeting with me on a constant basis to review my collections and discuss my business plans. He is extremely knowledgeable,” Simmons said.

Even as more emerging names burst onto the scene, Schulman said footwear kings Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin — as well as powerhouse label Choo — still remain hugely important to the retailer.

In the Blahnik business, for example, Bergdorf offers the largest assortment of the designer’s BB pump in the world. “If you can’t find the material, heel height or size you want, we can make it for you,” Schulman said, adding that the customization program is available both online and in store.

“Josh knows my product as well as I do,” said George Malkemus, Blahnik’s U.S. CEO. “He’s smart, enthusiastic and the new blood that Bergdorf needed. He has put his stamp on a lot of things that were already going very well.”

Under Schulman, brands such as Blahnik and Choo not only get prime placement in the main shoe salon but have a presence on the 5F contemporary floor as well.

“We noticed that the coolest girls are wearing contemporary ready-to-wear with luxury shoes,” said Schulman, who has rolled out a series of pop-ups such as the Jimmy Choo biker installation and the Manolo Blahnik “BB bar.”

“This is a business we’ve reinvented over the past five years,” he said of 5F. “Two years ago, the best-selling shoe was a $295 pump. Now our key pump on this floor is Manolo at $595. We’ve elevated the assortment and we have a powerful brand mix.”

Besides adding more upscale names to that department, the retailer also exited 30 brands between footwear and apparel as part of the overhaul, though Schulman declined to be more specific.

Today, Isabel Marant serves as the anchor label for 5F, while Alexander Wang, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Rag & Bone are also front and center. Styles from Tamara Mellon, Schulman’s former partner at Jimmy Choo, are prominently displayed as well.

Similarly, reinvention has been the key theme across the street at the men’s store, which is undergoing the final stages of an ambitious renovation.

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