I first knew Blake in early days when he was the buyer/manager of the Fashion Valley Shoe department in San Diego. He was always hands on and spent a lot of time floor watching and greeting customers. I was fairly new on the selling team and, like most commission shoe dogs, I tried making the most of my time with customers. One busy Saturday afternoon, I sat down with a woman and her daughter who proceeded to try on about half the stock room. I was getting frustrated and the customer could sense it. Our relationship was quickly disintegrating, and Blake was watching it from about 5 feet away. I went in the back with Blake on my heels. I knew he was concerned and I quickly told him the woman was completing “nuts”. His only reply was, “I want her leaving with a smile on her face.” After another hour, my customer left the department; not with a purchase, but with a smile. Blake gave me a nod and at that moment I began to understand the Nordstrom way. It’s more than “the customer is always right”; it’s about finding value in people. This was Blake because he genuinely valued people. One day, 30 years later, he stopped me on the street with my wife and told her I was greatest shoe salesmen he knew. I’m sure I was one among thousands that he said the same thing to, but he was always building up his people.
It was common in the past to move all half-yearly shoes to a dedicated section in the back room. This required pulling all the sale shoes out onto the selling floor during off hours, tightening the stock in the back, and then re-running the hash to the back room again. It’s an arduous task that normally finishes only hours before store opening the next day. On one occasion we were running a little late and getting close to store opening. I assured my dept manager not to panic and continue running items to the back as planned. It was about 15 minutes before store opening and we still hadn’t finish, but by this time we were running about as fast as we could. Blake had been in the back room catching up on paperwork and happen to walk out of the back room at that moment to see thousands of shoes spread all over the floor. He had that look like someone just stepped on his cat. Immediately he called everyone in the store to come to shoes and help carry the stock to the dock. It took us days to sort out the mess. (Still not sure why my manager listened to me in the first place.) But like Blake, he always saw it as a teaching moment. He would give you the famous Blake smile and listen as you explain what you would do in future circumstances. Somehow the smile always made it less impactful.
There were many occasions years later Blake stood by me, not only in work but on a personal level. He helped through some tough times. People have often asked me how I could work for the same company for 34 years. The answer is simple: I value the same things as the Nordstrom family. Blake will forever be my mentor.