When Tacey Powers marked a milestone birthday during the pandemic, her husband opened the door of their Seattle-area home and took her out to the yard to see a parade of 40 cars filled with Nordstrom teammates there to celebrate her from a safe distance. “I was wearing a really spooky work-from-home outfit, so you know they surprised me,” joked the EVP and GMM of shoes, a 40-year Nordstrom veteran.
Staying close to her team has been a huge priority for Powers during a period of remote work and a dramatically changed retail climate.
“When we’re in the office, I can tell in a minute what’s going on. I am in everyone’s pod every day. It’s hard when we’re virtual — taking people’s temperature and seeing what the issues are. I wanted to be very deliberate in my efforts to stay connected to our people. It was easy to get into your direct reports, and you needed to stay focused on putting time aside to check in on the entire team. I was amazed by our people’s resilience and the way that they showed up every day,” she said.
As employees navigated personal challenges around the pandemic and racial inequality, their professional obstacles included adapting to virtual buying appointments and heavier workloads.
They also had to react quickly to a big shift in consumer lifestyles. While Nordstrom has always been a strong player in comfort, the retailer planted a significant stake in the pandemic-fueled active category.
More recently, however, the dress business has seen a definite rebound as wedding and parties have picked up again this summer. “People shop at Nordstrom for high-stakes occasions,” Powers said, adding that “we can’t keep heeled sandals in stock.” She cited emerging designer Jessica Rich as a clear winner. “There are a lot of great basic shoes out there, but she looked at the business differently and brought something we didn’t have on our floor,” Powers said. Rebecca Allen, the creator of a collection of inclusive nude styles, is also gaining momentum.
While pent-up consumer demand is fueling sales — shoes were a standout category in the second quarter — supply chain headwinds are a top concern heading into fall and holiday.
“We are staying super close to our supplier community. We want to fully understand what they need to be able to deliver. It has meant that orders are due sooner,” Powers said. “It’s not easy. We’re not out of this yet.”
Another significant challenge has been the inability to travel and hold in-person meetings for much of the past 18 months. Powers noted that her recent trip to New York was refreshing.
“There’s nothing that can replace working with product in person. You have everyone in the room. You have the opportunity to have open dialogue. You can see it come to life in front of you,” she said.
On the flip side, she predicts that the frenetic travel of the past won’t return. “Our planet gave us messaging during this time. The days of jumping on a plane to go to New York for the day, I think that’s behind us,” Powers said. “So we’ll pick our spots on what shows we’ll go to, and we’ll make sure we have a strong game plan in place. We will probably go to four shows a year, and the rest we’ll do virtually. A lot of people have talked about coming to see us, which is great.”
No matter how they meet with the vendor community, the Nordstrom team will continue to focus on finding new talent. “[We] need it, and we’re out there scouring for it. As much as we love the product, we’re also trying to help [emerging players] stabilize and build their businesses,” Powers said.
While she’s looking forward to better days ahead, the exec is also reflecting on her team’s resilience — and the strength of the broader community. “The shoe industry was tremendous. All of us had our challenges, and everyone checked in on everyone,” she said. “It was heartwarming, and it felt like we went through it together.”