Welcome to the series "First to Wisconsin" featuring stories about businesses that we finally have in our state. Although there may be more locations to come, these premiere places are celebrated by OnMilwaukee and the Corners of Brookfield, a luxury shopping mall inviting guests to "Shop. Dine. Live. Be Entertained."
The sun shining down through the store’s bright, clean, glowing white center. Piano music pleasantly elegantly twinkles through the building – performed by an actual live pianist, not boxed PA music. The large sections of popular name-brand merchandise, warmly decorated with plentiful plush seating, art on the walls and eager-to-help shopping assistants. Walking into a Von Maur for the first time, it’s an upscale, classy department store experience that immediately feels like it could only have come from one place.
Born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1872, Von Maur has spent much of the past century and a half growing out of its humble small Midwestern origins and into a popular department store brand with 32 locations spread across 15 states – including one of its most recent additions, an almost 150,000-square-foot, two-floor anchor store that marks the Badger State’s first, opened at The Corners of Brookfield just this past April.
"With being so popular in our Chicagoland area, we definitely saw a need here," said Lisa Magliocci, store manager. "A lot of our customers from around the Milwaukee area shop at our Chicagoland stores, and they really wanted a store, like us, here with the services and amenities we provide. So when this new opportunity arose with this new mall, it was just a perfect opportunity for Von Maur to step in.
"We really take a conscious effort into figuring out what markets we want to go into and where we want to grow as a brand. And when we’re growing, we really want to stay true our core principles."
Part of those core principles includes a very Midwestern attitude and focus on a personalized approach with customers, listening to what visitors want and adapting each location to its home state and its clientele. In the case of this first Wisconsin location, that means there’s – of course – Packers and Badgers gear scattered throughout the store’s numerous open-concept departments (its opening week celebrations savvily included a book signing from Packers radio legend Wayne Larivee as well). A Harley-Davidson perches on the wall as part of the its wall décor, while a rustic deer sculpture sits near the men’s lounge – a tribute to the state’s outdoors culture as well as the Milwaukee Bucks.
The particular touches at the new Von Maur location aren’t just limited to regional flair, either.
"We think about the market, what that customer is wanting, and we base our product on that market," Magliocci noted. "If they’re saying, ‘We want Wi-Fi,’ or ‘We need this,’ we listen to that. So a lot of our store locations now added complimentary Wi-Fi for our customers. Something unique to our store is we offer charging stations, so in our juniors department, we have some areas where you can charge up your devices. We also have filtered water fountains for people to fill their water bottles up. We take into consideration what our customers are requesting and trying to stay relevant and evolving as retail evolves."
Other particular points of note include installing TVs in several areas of the store for customers to watch the day’s sporting events or important news, the open air and uncluttered design and organization of the space, and the plentiful seating scattered through each section – ranging from men’s, women’s and children’s clothing options, along with a gift area and other typical department store offerings (perfume, shoes, lingerie), priced everywhere from low to high with a "first in, first out" approach to its inventory.
"As people, we’re all different, and Von Maur realizes that; that’s why we try to cater our business to the customer," Magliocci said. "Every store location, we’ve got different product based on that clientele base and customer base. And I think that’s something that makes us unique to other retailers, that sets us apart."
That personalized, friendly Midwestern-esque approach continues with the people as well. In addition to amenities like complimentary alterations, interest-free charge and free gift wrap – in addition to closing on holidays and early on eves for its associates, a growing rarity in modern retail – Magliocci emphasized a "personal shopping experience" aspect at Von Maur.
"We get to know people by name and really take the time to learn what the customers are looking for, really what the customer needs, getting that personal relationship with them," Magliocci explained. "You don’t really have that any more. A lot of times, you’ll walk into your retailer and it’s hard to find someone to help you. Here, we’re calling customers, we’re telling them about products, getting to know them and their families, and being that personal shopper.
"Sure, it’s really easy to click a button and order your product and have it delivered, but you miss that interaction with the person. And you get that here. You’re going to get someone that’s going to take the time to look around the store with you, find the product you need, get you in the right sizes and really just give you the ultimate customer service."
Magliocci noted that Von Maur believes in "slow and steady" growth, currently expanding with only one or two stores a year. So while a second Wisconsin Von Maur location could be possible in the future, time can only tell. In the meantime, after almost a century and a half, Wisconsin’s got a new shopping experience, arriving all the way from the exotic culture mecca that is Davenport, Iowa.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.