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That Little Home Nook at Nordstrom’s Keeps Getting Bigger

Nordstrom, you know, the upscale department store out of Seattle, has a lot on its plate these days: its first New York City store, tests of its “Local” non-store stores and trying to get the financing – again – to go private. But of all the things on its plate, one is quite literal: plates…not to mention sheets, towels, candles and even blenders. Always a very minor player in the home furnishings business with a tiny in-store department usually tucked away behind the shoe department – or worse, the escalator – more recently the retailer has been ramping up its efforts in this area.

Why Home Makes Sense for Nordstrom

Though it does not have Macy’s-sized aspirations in home, Nordstrom’s clearly sees some opportunities for expanding its footprint in the category:

  • Of the major upscale department stores – Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Neiman Marcus and itself – only Bloomies has a well-developed and believed-to-be highly profitable home furnishings business. Retailers never met a void they didn’t feel they could exploit.
  • With its acquisition of one-time flash-sale site HauteLook in 2011 along came a presence in home that the retailer has used as a base on which to build its core department store business upon.
  • The entire online channel gives Nordstrom a way to expand its home offerings without making the physical real estate investment in its stores. The retailer’s e-commerce home collection has grown dramatically over the past few years.
  • The Nordstrom Rack off-price business, the fastest growing part of the company, includes a full range of hard and soft home furnishings, providing a landing spot for any home programs gone astray at the mothership.
  • Home may turn more slowly than fashion, and in some classifications, takes up more space, but the markdowns versus fashion goods are not nearly as brutal and the profit margins on all those candles and decorative pillows can be downright obscene.

From Candles to Cookware

Nordstrom’s home department began modestly enough as a small – often less than a 1,000-square-foot corner located off the main selling floor or sometimes featured a bit more prominently during seasonal periods. The product assortments were heavily skewed towards gifts with soft home products like throws and decorative pillows and home décor items including candles and vases serving as the focal points. Over the years, each side of the home equation – soft and hard – began to expand. Full bedding ensembles and towels were offered, sometimes private label, other times with prestigious labels.

Sometimes there were creative tie-ins. When Westin Hotels first introduced its Heavenly Beds to its properties and began to market them directly to guests, it also sold them at Nordstrom, complete with coordinating linens. It was perhaps the first joint effort of its type in the home business. On the hard side, the store began to offer more tabletop, including dinnerware and glassware, as well as home fragrance and décor accessories. As online began to become ever more important, it gave Nordstrom the chance to really expand its offerings. On the Nordstrom website, you can now buy everything from All Clad cookware to Smeg kitchen appliances.

Casper, Anthropologie and Soon, Tory Burch

Westin beds have been replaced with uber-trendy Casper mattresses. Nordstrom also hooked up earlier this year with Anthropologie for a bespoke collection, believed to be the first time the Urban Outfitters unit has sold its products through a third party.

Another big name is expected to arrive at Nordstrom later this year. According to press reports, the store will introduce the Tory Burch home collection before the end of the year, though additional details are scarce. There is also a Nordstrom At Home private label line that is weighted towards bed and bath, though there are some tabletop and decorative accessories items mixed in. This expanded attention to home is not going to dramatically move the needle for Nordstrom but it does provide some balance to the fashion side of the store while giving the store’s customers another shopping alternative.

At the time of the Anthropologie launch, the store’s GMM was quoted as saying, “Home is a category we continue to evolve” and clearly that evolutionary process is an ongoing one. Survival of the department store fittest, it seems, may indeed involve having home merchandise amongst all those shoes, tops and bottles of perfume.

Warren Shoulberg always tries to stop and listen to the piano player at his local Nordstrom store. It’s the civilized thing to do.

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