Von Maur at Westroads has a new feel
Other changes include brighter lighting, fresh carpet, full body mannequins, new garment racks and wooden display tables, instead of glass.
The work will be officially unveiled in a grand reopening event, but it is already paying off with what the Davenport, Iowa based chain’s president called a “significant” boost in sales in the renovated departments: handbags, shoes, juniors and contemporary.
New exterior doors, lighting and signage in January will complete the project. The family owned business does not disclose financial information and declined to say how much it spent on the remodeling or exactly how much sales are up.
Store manager Ashley Vasquez said customers are commenting on the improvements, even if they can’t quite place the changes.
“They’ll come in and they’re like, ‘What’s different?'” Vasquez said. “It’s subtle, but it makes a big difference.”
>> Mannequins with arms and legs let Von Maur display an outfit with more accessories, including shoes.
>> Bringing luxury handbags out from behind glass lets customers feel the material and try on the bags without having to ask for help.
>> New flooring and wall finishes in juniors update the look and further distinguish it from other departments.
>> Longer, eye level garment racks in the contemporary department display several items at a time, allowing customers to see how pieces work together in an outfit.
>> New tables and shelf units in the shoe department put more shoes in view at a time.
One shopper, Omaha sixth grader Maddy DiPrima, put her finger right on the changes in the shoe department, where she tried on riding boots as her grandmother watched.
Maddy pointed out the decorative blue background on the shoe display shelves, the new upholstery on the chairs and the fresh blue carpet.
“Everything matches and it looks neater,” she said.
Barbara Schlott of Council Bluffs, browsing in handbags, said, “I like being able to look at the good bags. Before, you couldn’t touch them. Feel that leather isn’t that gorgeous?”
The renovations did not disturb the plaque in the first floor lobby that memorializes eight people shot and killed on Dec. 5, 2007. Staff will remember those lost with a moment of silence this morning.
“We’ll never forget the victims,” company President Jim von Maur said. “It’s something that’s going to stay with us for the rest of our lives.”
He said he personally knew some of the victims, having managed the Omaha store in 1996 as he learned the family business, co founded by his great grandfather.
Von Maur said the improvements will keep the store current and help it compete.
Westroads Mall, Nebraska’s dominant enclosed shopping mall, has significantly more competition than it did 19 years ago, with the addition of three outdoor shopping centers in the area.
Village Pointe in west Omaha opened in 2004, Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion in 2007 and Nebraska Crossing Outlets in Gretna in 2013.
Discussing competition from other stores, Vasquez said, “Aesthetically, we’re right on point now, but our customer service is definitely what sets us apart.”
The business is balancing new and old as it grows, Jim von Maur said. Von Maur had just 11 department stores when it started considering an Omaha location. Today it has 30 in 14 states, including the Lincoln location that opened in 1999.
He said the stores will always be known for quality merchandise and old fashioned customer service, including free shipping, free gift wrapping and a no interest credit card.
But the retailer, whose history dates to 1872, is also firmly in the modern age. It has a growing e commerce store where robots pick merchandise from the Davenport warehouse, and 13 locations of a new brand, Dry Goods, a fast casual shop aimed at young women with a name that’s a throwback to Von Maur’s origins.
The Dry Goods stores are doing “extremely well,” and von Maur said he is looking to open an Omaha location.
“A department store can only grow so fast,” he said. No new department stores will open in 2015; instead, the business plans more remodeling of its older stores.
Meanwhile, holiday sales are strong. Von Maur said media coverage of his decision not to open on Thanksgiving has generated a significant sales boost for his stores, especially in markets where the stores are newer and were not as well known.
With a strengthening economy, especially in the Midwest, and with consumer confidence strong among higher end shoppers, he said, “We’re going to have a good season.”.