Do you ever wonder why the hell a certain shoe brand is gracing the presence of the shelves of a large department store such as Nordstrom or Bloomingdales. Or even asked yourself why some brand that you wish was, actually isn’t and probably won’t be? Well, I have, as I used to work for a large department store and constantly asked myself, ‘why are we selling this, and why aren’t we selling these other great labels?’ Well, today I have asked my good friend Ryan Taylor to help explain why a large department store, such as Nordstrom, carries the shoes that they do. To give a briefing on Ryan, he is a young guy, who in my opinion was the best manager I ever had, and is someone that I believe will make it to the top ranks of the men’s shoe division at Nordstrom. As he has gone all the way up the food chain from Flagship store Men’s Shoe department manager, to Assistant Buyer, to Regional Merchandising Manager and just recently promoted to Buy Planner for the men’s shoes division at Nordstrom Rack, Ryan has seen his fare share in the shoe industry and is here to explain. For all of you aspiring shoe designers, listen up, as this will be your holy grail of information into the shoe industry, as Nordstrom would be the golden goose of all stores to have your shoes selling at. Enjoy the interview.

(Shoe by Duckie Brown for Florsheim, available at Nordstrom)

1. As a shoe buyer, what do you look for in a new brand?

Trend worthiness, quality/value relationship, & a marketing plan.

2. What do you find is critical to a brand’s success once they have overcame the initial process of ‘getting in’ (to a large department store)?

– Marketing & the ability for them to recover (stay in-stock).

3. When a brand gets signed on, is there a contract whereby the store will guarantee a certain amount of time the brand will be carried or is it dependent upon the brand’s ‘sell through,’ season by season?

No. Nobody signs anything except occasionally with an established and successful partner.

4. What was your favorite thing about being a shoe buyer for a major department store? Your least favorite aspect?

Favorite is seeing the success of the shoe at retail and maximizing the results with it. Least would be the details or hoops to jump through just to get a shoe into stores.

5. As Regional Merchandise Manager, do you still have some influence over what gets put on the floor or is it just your job now to make sure that what gets bought, actually sells well?

Both. My old job consisted of maximizing the results of the buy right now, while also assessing team, customer, & trend feedback which in turn is relayed to the buying team to affect change within a store or entire region. The key was the timeliness and scope of the call-out. Was it at the right time so changes could be made either now or for the coming season(s) and also would it be impactful to the overall business and worth the time investment to address it.

6. What are some of the critical trade shows or ways of discovering new shoe brands?

FFANY is the only critical show in the US for a retailer the size of Nordstrom. In Europe MICAM is the most important.

7. What is your main goal within the shoe industry? At what point would you be happy saying, “I have made it!’?

– To run an efficient & profitable business for a consistent basis. Its great to see your decisions, persistence/consistency, competitiveness, and hard work pay off. I dont know if at any point you say, Ive made it. Especially in retail and especially at Nordstrom we never stop looking for ways to improve results and improve customer service. You can always do better.

8. How important are the salespeople in a shoe department to a brand’s success? Why?

– It’s the driving force along with a good marketing campaign. Nordstrom has the best sales force in retail; if they get behind something they can drive major sales. Marketing your brand includes marketing to the sales force. This is true for most brands, other than UGG and Toms.

9. What are some of the brands that you have come across that were looked at but never ‘purchased for the floor’ but that you wished they would have been?

Id need to spend more time in my role to assess this. My buyer Marty really only mentioned Mephisto back in the day because he never thought a $200-$300 walking shoe was needed. I remember seeing some great items as an assistant buyer or lines I thought had potential, but when you balance it on the business side of whether or not the product would actually produce significant results or whether or not the vendor could be a good partner I never recall something I was heartbroken about not being able to bring in. There is a big difference between thinking a shoe is cool or something Id wear and knowing a shoe will sell and produce the results I need.

10. What are some of the reasons that a large department store will drop a brand that they carry?

A couple of examples are too much distribution, distribution in the wrong places, & profitability. Another area that often comes up is a vendors inability to fill orders completely, ship POs (purchase orders) on-time or at all, or when many errors are found on the orders they do ship. Disorganization and a poorly run business often discredit and sink a vendor.

11. What do you hope to see more of on the shoe floor in the next few years?

I think the direction we are headed with more color options are fantastic. Rather than selecting a type of shoe or vendor I want to see on our floors the area Im most excited about for Mens Shoes/Fashion is how greatly our turn has increased so that the Mens business is moving closer to the Womens business with 4 seasons (major deliveries) as opposed to just two with a Spring & Fall. Were not there yet, but guys are starting to appreciate more options at the right times and if Nordstrom continues to execute at a high level within our merchant/buying organization and within our sales teams there is no reason they shouldnt turn to us to take care of them.

I hope that you have all enjoyed this and learned something new.


Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

2 thoughts on “Nordstrom Shoe Buyer Interview”

  1. Unfortunately the main reasons to why a brand make it or brake it (as you can also tell from this interview) is how strong is its financial backing and marketing plan, their design vision is important but without the first 2 it will not cut it. The days where a small designer can make it only with his savings are long gone. Quite honestly from working in this industry for 15 years from a financial point of view the wholesale business for small designers is bankrupted! They can use it for pr and brand positioning but financially they are lucky if they’ll break even. Their best bet is to build their brand directly with their customers through online or if possible a physical store. I liked that Ryan was honest and didn’t make it sound like what it’s not…after all it is a business and need to show numbers.
    Btw Justin good luck with your line, maybe we can collaborate in the future???

  2. BOAZ – yes, unfortunately it is no longer easy to just get up and do it with a little bit of saved money. it can be done though, but it is just very difficult. Your product would have to be phenomenal and just sell itself. Thanks for the wishes, if everything goes as planned, hopefully I can release next year. And yes, when I make it back to NYC, we can see about collaborating!

    -Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

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