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The shop-floor at one of Von Maur's upscale department stores. The award-winning chain has 36 stores across 15 states.

Classroom CEO Encounter Leads to Supply-Chain Opportunity

When business major Alyssa Tully ’24 woke up just in time for her 8.20 a.m. class on supply chain issues, she didn’t know it, but she was headed for a bonus – a store management internship with Von Maur, the department store of her dreams.

The guest in the classroom that day was Jim Von Maur ’92, the fourth-generation head of the 150-year-old family firm, who was on campus to talk to De Pere and Green Bay businesses at the Schneider School’s CEO Breakfast series.

Tully knew the upscale Von Maur fashion department stores from childhood: “I remember as a little girl going into Von Maur in Yorktown before Christmas with all the decorations out and the pianos playing and it was just magical, and I couldn’t believe I was meeting the person behind it all and he had sat where I was sitting. There’s only one Von Maur store in Wisconsin (although we are getting another one in Madison this fall), so not many people at St. Norbert know about the company.”

Tully fired questions at the CEO, he was bowled over by her enthusiasm – “She was so sharp, curious, engaging and had a lot of energy” – and found herself spending the summer on a paid internship at the Orland Park, Ill., store. Next year she has the option of applying again for Von Maur’s internship program, to work with buyers on merchandising at the corporate headquarters in Davenport, Ill.

Near the end of her two months paired with store and floor managers, and back on campus briefly to prep the football team she manages for the season, Tully is still finding the magic in retail.

“It’s been truly rewarding. Applying what I’ve learned in the classroom on, for example supply-chain issues, in the real business world. It’s not a drill. You need to learn how to overcome these issues, and the managers you are working with expect you to communicate your ideas and they take you seriously.

“In marketing I’ve also been seeing what I learned in class happening for real when we think about how to reach our customers and keep them coming back. I worked with the other intern to put on a Summer Glow beauty event and we had to work out how to get people into the chair and get them to purchase our products. We made phone calls, we made posters, we walked up to customers in the store and offered a free facial, we put together great sample bags.”

A serious store-shopper, Tully believes fashion retail is bouncing back after the pandemic. “People still need to touch and feel the clothes and try them on, and why not go into the store to do that where you can try on everything at once? Our number-one priority is the customer service, to make it a good experience. We have an interest-free charge card, we still have free gift wrap, we have free shipping, we box everything in tissue paper. We do things that other stores have given up.”

Joining the family
Von Maur believes his company has a lot to offer keen graduates, even if not dedicated followers of fashion, with an executive training program which Tully will also have the opportunity to apply for. The chain was named the nation’s No. 1 department store in Newsweek’s America’s Best Retailers 2022 rankings.

“Every day is different,” says Von Maur. “There’s always something new and challenging happening. Fashion evolves season-to-season and even monthly, and the way we serve and engage our customers changes constantly too. If you enjoy being kept constantly on your toes to stay ahead of the competition, you will be excited this industry.

“It’s good to do your homework before you reach out to HR, know something about the business and be serious about a career rather than just wanting a summer job. Finding good people who want to work with us long-term is our biggest challenge. If we find people who are driven and career-focused, we will train them from the ground up and we don’t mind if they haven’t worked in retail before.”

Von Maur is celebrating 30 years in retail. It wasn’t always a given that he would take that direction on graduation. “I majored in history with a minor in English, so I might have gone into law, history or journalism. I always liked asking questions. The liberal arts education has been extremely valuable for me in my business. My professors at St. Norbert taught me how to think, analyze and problem-solve.

“There was a strong pull towards the family business but I didn’t always see it as a definite future. It happened that just as I was graduating, we were growing. We were opening a store in Chicago [the same Yorktown store where Tully’s family went Christmas shopping]. We were entering an exciting phase, and I felt drawn to the opportunities.”

He worked for the competition, Marshall Fields and Nordstrom, before his first Von Maur role in the shoe department. “I did everything; moved into buying, ran a store.” Everyone in Von Maur stores still starts in a customer-facing role. “Whatever decisions you make later in your career, it’s important that you know how to make customers happy and sales associates happy,” the CEO says.

Tully’s future path might lead to any area of management in sales, marketing or HR but her internship has taught her valuable transferable skills. She started with a major in biology but switched to business administration with a marketing concentration in her sophomore year because: “I loved the ideas in my business classes and knew that this was something I wanted to be part of.” Like Von Maur, she is benefiting from a family legacy: her sister Brianna Tully ’23 is a current senior and their mother, Tina (Scapillato) Tully ’93 and cousin, Greg Scapillato ’93, are both SNC alumni.

Sept. 15, 2022