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Checking Out: John Klimkowski

Bloomingdale’s ovp, national director – visual merchandising, learned early on that visual works best when it’s part of a business strategy that incorporates the merchandise and helps drive sales



How did you get started in visual?

I was studying art and design in college and took an intern job for the holidays in the visual department of Hudson’s department store at the Lakeside Mall in Sterling, Mich.

And that led to a permanent job?

Yes, I was offered a position as a stylist in the home store.

How did that job form your view of visual’s role?

I became intrigued by creating presentations that incorporated merchandise into the visual component, which wasn’t common practice in the ’80s – they were considered separate disciplines. But I saw an opportunity to make it more dynamic, to make the merchandise itself part of the whole experience.


How did you cross paths with Andy Markopoulos?

I had become visual manager at the Hudson’s store in Okemos, Mich. Andy was Dayton-Hudson’s head of visual and design, and he liked what he saw at our store. He eventually recruited me to help him open the the new Dayton’s department store at Southland Center in Edina, Minn. That store was his baby.

What did you learn from him?

He cautioned me very early on to make sure any ideas I had were wrapped in good, sound business decisions, or nobody would ever take me seriously.

Later, at Bloomingdale’s, you worked with another icon – Jack Hruska.

Yes, I was recruited by Bloomingdale’s in 1992 to open its Mall of America store. That same month, Jack was named the new director of visual merchandising. Later, I helped open Jack’s first concept store at Old Orchard in Skokie, Ill.


What was your major takeaway from that relationship?

To push myself for innovation, but only if it felt comfortable within the unique architectural environment, as if it’s meant to be there. And if it doesn’t feel comfortable, to challenge myself to figure out how to achieve that.

And now you’re the mentor. How does that feel?

It’s my favorite part of the job, working with highly creative people and helping develop their skills, watching their careers grow. I’ve made it my commitment always to be there for my team.

Making Senses of Visual

How is visual different in our brave new world?


Today, people can buy anything from their sofa at home. So when people go shopping, they’re looking not for best price but for an experience. The environment has to excite the senses.

Like your Christmas 2015 windows?

Yes. We designed our concept this past year around the five senses. Things like piping the sound of jingle bells out onto the sidewalk – and the smell of peppermint, dispensing peppermints on the sidewalk. And having people take a picture of themselves hugging someone, and then posting those photos on 12 embedded [digital] screens in the window.

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