Neiman Marcus is the affluent shopper’s paradise. It caters to the rich and famous. And its name has appeared as a symbol for high status in everything from R&B songs to movies to television sitcoms. (Remember the stylish Neiman Marcus lover Blair Warner from “The Facts of Life”?)
But talking to NM’s ceo and chairman Burt Tansky isn’t like talking to a typical ceo of a successful luxury empire. Tansky is a hands-on manager, reminiscent of a time when ceo’s were on the sales floor interacting with people and product, and paying attention to every detail. He’s a busy man – discovering real estate for new stores and developing strategies for Neiman Marcus’ future. But when you talk to him, he’s invested in the conversation, not distracted, not sidetracked by a ringing Blackberry.
The University of Pittsburgh grad got his start in retail with a part-time job at Kaufmann’s (now Macy’s). After positions with Filene’s, Rike’s and I. Magnin, he joined Saks Fifth Avenue as general merchandise manager, becoming president in 1980. Ten years later, he joined the Neiman Marcus Group as chairman and ceo of Bergdorf Goodman. In 2001, he advanced to chairman, ceo and president of the Neiman Marcus Group.
For the past 17 years, Tansky has helped carry on what NM’s founders set out to do: offer the utmost quality in service and merchandise.
Happy hundredth birthday, Neiman Marcus.
One hundred years. How has Neiman Marcus survived for so long?
We’ve stayed true to our founders. We offer the customer quality in merchandise and service.
And why will it survive for another hundred years?
Because we’re going to continue to do more of the same. We have a great appreciation for our customers. We know what they want and we’re going to deliver it with the best service and in beautiful stores.
It has been said that the average age of that Neiman’s customer is 50.
That’s right, and we don’t apologize for that. People need time to become successful, to create the wealth necessary to be able to shop with us.
What about the younger demographic?
Young is not our primary customer. People in their 20s can’t afford us unless they have a trust fund. Okay, there might be a few things in the contemporary department they could afford. However, we also have a very strong and well-developed contemporary business that clearly reaches out to a younger customer. That doesn’t necessarily mean simply age, by the way. It also refers to a contemporary mentality.
We’re told this is a centennial of looking forward as well as back. How does the new Natick, Mass., store speak to the future?
The Natick store was a change of pace for us – it’s a whole new look. Basically, going forward, our stores will be modern and take advantage of the locations that they’re in.
Define luxury in 10 words or less.
Okay, one word. That works, too. But aren’t there different types of luxury?
When you talk about luxury, you’re talking about the best of what’s available, whether it’s wine, cars, clothes or shoes. There are a lot of people out there who profess to be in the luxury business, but they’re not. “Affordable luxury” is creeping into everybody’s vocabulary but that’s not luxury. When you see real luxury, you know it.
There’s a picture in a magazine of you posed atop a bull. What’s the story behind that snapshot?
That was 10 years ago, at our 90th anniversary party. We had this big longhorn steer and everybody got on for a photo opp. Unfortunately, the magazine chose to run the one of me.
It’s been said you’re a hands-on manager, and those hands will occasionally even brush dust from a shelf. What’s your mantra when it comes to managing your stores?
I believe that each and every one of us has to be looking all the time at everything in our stores. Whether it’s dust on a shelf, which is absolutely unacceptable, or how a mannequin is put together, or the kinds of clothes that are hanging on a rack. To me, it’s all about detail.
Do you remember the thought in your head when you first walked into Neiman’s Dallas flagship store 14 years ago?
I do. I said, “Wow, this is a store that’s been around for 86 years and it looks great.”
What about now?
Well, it still looks great. I’m just delighted to be here. I love it. I’m having a great time and we have the best team in retail.