“As a man working in women’s retail, I look at it as an advantage. I can’t wear the pieces so I can be more objective.”
- Herman Heinle, President of Gus Mayer
Some have said that this is a man’s world. Obviously not when it comes to the fashion industry, which is 10x times more female-centric in terms of product and merchandise. So how can a man succeed in women’s retail? By using his gender to his advantage, by working tirelessly at what he does, and by focusing on the relationships with those around him. We sat down to talk with Herman Heinle, President of Gus Mayer since 2005, about his life in the fashion industry.
Q: Where are you from originally?
I was born in New York, but at an early age our family moved to central Florida. My mom and dad didn’t want to raise their kids in New York. Though my job kept me on the road for years, Florida remained my home until 2005, when I took the job as President of Gus Mayer.
Q: Was fashion your chosen career path from the start?
In college, I studied mathematics and physics. I was always good with numbers, and I thought that would be my future. In my senior year of college I took some accounting and finance classes, as well. It was then that I started working part time at His Stores for Men. Of course “part-time” meant something quite different back then. I worked 50+ hours per week, at $50 per week + 2% commission. But I loved it, and I was good at the sale. I began working in retail full time not long after that. It just happened that it was a natural fit, so to speak, for me.
Q. How does one go from part-time clothing store employee to the President of a successful retail store? Where else did your career path take you?
I worked at His Stores for 14 years. I progressed up to store manager ranks, and they made me Vice President of Merchandise for 28 stores. It was long hours plus travel, and I had a young son at the time. From there, I began working at Jacobson’s, a regional department store chain with 10 stores in Florida, and additional stores in Michigan. When they called me in to interview, I thought I would go into menswear, as this is what I knew best, but they hired me in womenswear. With no experience in women’s fashion, we had doubled their sales within one year. Eventually I was promoted to Senior Vice President. In 1999 I went to work for Stein Mart and then Draper’s and Damon’s, based out of California as the Vice President of Merchandise. In 2005, I was contacted to interview as the President of Gus Mayer. This would be the first time that a Pizitz family member did not hold that position as President.
Q. What about the position of President at Gus Mayer intrigued you the most?
During my years with Jacobson’s I had the opportunity to touch on every facet of the business from travels to the Far East for product development to management of operations and sales strategies. Gus Mayer allotted me with a similar opportunity of a new market with new challenges, but with a strong history of success. I aim to constantly be on the quest for the newest and best lines to stock the proper inventory in order to grow our sales. In comparable stores to Gus Mayer, males in positions of leadership are certainly in the minority – about 20%. In large department stores, however, most of the roles are held by men. As a man working in women’s retail, I look at it as an advantage. I can’t wear the pieces so I can be more objective.
Q. Who are your personal icons in fashion or business?
Ralph Lauren is pretty amazing. He’s been able to transcend the gamut of his customer base by offering lines at various price points, and has being doing well so consistently for so long. Jerry Chasen of Liz Claiborne is also top of the list for being the innovative mind behind the concept of coordinating pieces from separates. Under his leadership as CEO of Liz Claiborne, the business catapulted to a new level.
Q. What is your vision for Gus Mayer?
Our goal is to be the best specialty store in Birmingham and Nashville. Gus Mayer is a family. We hire and retain great people and have long-lasting relationships with our associates, as well as our customers. Years of outstanding service to customers, innovative merchandise and community involvement has been a cornerstone of Gus Mayer. Providing the latest fashions for our market has resulted in Gus Mayer receiving Harper’s Bazaar Style Leader award for eight consecutive years. We firmly believe that looking beautiful on the outside makes our customer feel beautiful on the inside and try to abide by that statement in every department here at Gus Mayer.