Q&A with Todd Okerstrom, Director Of Personal Shopping, Bergdorf Goodman
Todd Okerstrom has been on the front lines of luxury retail for 30 years, 25 of which he spent with the Neiman Marcus Group and the past eight years with Bergdorf Goodman. Today, as Director of Personal Shopping, Okerstrom and his staff routinely field calls and emails from clients traveling in the likes of Monte Carlo or the Maldives, or flipping through Vogue on their yacht. And when his client wants that dress on page 68 or texts him a picture of a pair of shoes seen on a street in South Africa, Okerstrom always finds the item, post-haste. With Bergdorf Goodman marking its 111th anniversary, Todd kindly took time to discuss with XOJET the challenges of shopping in the digital age and the future of the iconic luxury retailer.
XOJET: Discuss the significance of this 111th anniversary for Bergdorf Goodman.
TO: It’s a chance for Bergdorf Goodman to thank the world for the success we’ve had over the last 111 years. We landed on this anniversary as we have the luxury of being only one store in one amazing city and offer one extraordinary experience for our customers. It’s a celebration of an individual entity within the luxury retail world.
The amount of personal attention that Bergdorf Goodman has garnered from the design community to celebrate this occasion is amazing. We have Valentino, J. Mendel, Christian Louboutin and Tom Ford—all the top names in fashion and elegance, they’ve all done something special for us. To imagine those business enterprises stopping to create something specifically for us is remarkable.
XOJET: Why have those designers extended themselves in that way for you?
TO: I say with the greatest possible humility that this is the center of the luxury retail world. Whether it’s an established company or someone new to the scene, everyone hangs their success on the fact that they have a presence at Bergdorf Goodman.
XOJET: On that note, what is Bergdorf Goodman’s customer service philosophy?
TO: Yes. (Pause.) In a word: yes. Our philosophy is we’ll do whatever it takes. In terms of urgency, that means doing things like moving the delivery of a pair of pants to a heart transplant patient. I can’t tell you the number of times our alterations department kind of rolls their eyes at me and says, “You really want this done in an hour?” And then they achieve it. So it’s accommodating a very busy client base that has expectations above and beyond what they would expect from one of our competitors—if there is such a thing.
XOJET: How has the luxury market changed during your tenure with Bergdorf Goodman?
TO: It’s become more homogenized. In terms of the broader market, fabulous design at multiple price points is now available to a broader selection of the general public. In terms of luxury, what’s really coming into play is craftsmanship, handwork and limited quantities of exclusive product that’s not so broadly broadcast or widely dispersed so that everyone has it.
XOJET: How do you distinguish yourself in this day as a luxury retailer?
TO: The Internet has totally changed the character of the luxury business because you can get online and get a Chanel jacket, or you can walk over to 57th Street and get a Chanel jacket, or you can walk into our beautiful boutique here and get a Chanel jacket. The biggest differentiator in that scenario is what sort of service you’re going to obtain with that purchase. It’s one of the downfalls of the Internet: it’s a click of a button to buy, and a click of a button to return, but you don’t have that interaction, that personal touch and relationship that is essential to a true luxury environment and experience. You have to build trust, and that’s very difficult to do on the Internet.
XOJET: On the other hand, how has technology improved the luxury experience?
TO: I think that there’s this wonderful correlation—in fact, I’m experimenting now with having a private, invitation-only conversation with key clients that I invite to get online and Skype with me about the new collections that were just shown in London, Milan, Paris and New York. What did they see on the runways that they want to wear next spring? Can we tailor our merchandising to their specific needs? In that way, the Internet is limitless in possibility and very exciting.
XOJET: With regards to the global economy and technology, given the prevalence of knockoffs, is Bergdorf’s carrying more one-of-a-kind items?
TO: I think Joe Fresh polo shirts for $9.99 are great, and our clients now definitely play the high-low mix with their wardrobes. As far as exclusivity, though, believe me, when you see that Tom Ford made two lavender alligator bags for Bergdorf Goodman, you will not mistake them for any knockoff in the world.
XOJET: So what is the greatest challenge for you today?
TO: My biggest challenge is ensuring that everyone who walks through our door has a wonderful experience. Whether they buy anything or not, I want their experience here to be warm and for people to feel comfortable walking through our doors. Instilling that sense of hospitality in our team is essential to the long-term success of this business.
XOJET: Looking ahead, what do you see in Bergdorf Goodman’s future?
TO: The success of our business has many facets, but I go back to the relationship we have with our customers. Whether it’s working with them in-store or an invitation app sent through their iPhone, developing a level of trust and competence will be essential for the next hundred years. On the other hand, trivial as it sounds, we’ve got to have fun. Giving a gift from Bergdorf Goodman should be a treat; people should be as excited about giving as receiving. Considering all the incredibly serious things happening in the world today, walking through our doors should be icing on the cake.