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20 Fun Facts You Didn't Know about Nordstrom


Nordstrom is a chain of department stores that started up in the United States. As a result, there are a fair number of Nordstrom stores that can be found throughout the United States. However, it is important to note that there are a number of Nordstrom stores that can be found outside of the United States as well, though these are still situated close by in relative terms. Regardless, Nordstrom is continuing to expand in the present, which is something that it has been engaged in since the start.

Here are 20 facts that you may or may not have known about Nordstrom:

It Is a Swedish Surname

Nordstrom is a Swedish surname. Considering the "nord" component, it should come as no surprise to learn that Nordstrom meant something along the lines of "north of a main settlement." However, it is important to note that this doesn't necessarily mean that someone with the Nordstrom surname had an ancestor who lived to the north of a settlement of significance at some point in time. This is because while families with the Nordstrom surname started out in such a manner, there are other families who picked it up in the 19th century because they liked the way that it sounded rather than for its practical value. Something that happened because there was a major transformation in how Swedish people used surnames at around this time, thus kicking off something of a scramble for surnames.

Started Out As Wallin & Nordstrom

The initial name of Nordstrom was Wallin & Nordstrom. Given this, it should come as no surprise to learn that the store started up as a partnership between two men, with one being John W. Nordstrom and the other being Carl F. Wallin. However, while Wallin played a role in the business for some time, he made the choice to sell his shares to his business partners in the end. Some people might have noticed the use of "business partners" rather than "business partner," which is because by that point in time, John had sold his shares to two of his sons, who had been involved in the business for some time. As a result, Wallin & Nordstrom saw a change of name to the simpler and much more straightforward Nordstrom, which happened to coincide with the grand opening of a remodeled store that contributed much to the rebranding efforts.

John W. Nordstrom Was Pulled Out of School At a Young Age

John started out life in a village called Alvik, which still serves as home to a few hundred people in modern times. His father had been a person of some significant in the local region, seeing as how he had been a blacksmith as well as a wainwright, meaning someone who specialized in making carts and wagons. Unfortunately, John's father died when he was still at the age of 8. For some time, he was able to continue in school, but by the time that he was 11, his mother had to pull him out of school for the purpose of working on their family farm. Eventually, John wound up becoming one of the numerous Scandinavian immigrants heading towards the United States in that period of time when he was still no more than 16, with the result that he had no more than $5 in his possession.

John W. Nordstrom Worked a Wide Range of Jobs

Due to this, John worked a wide range of jobs in his time in the United States. For example, he spent some time working as a miner as well as a lumberjack, which would have been even more grueling in those times than in the present. Likewise, he spent some time working in the shipyards as well as on the railways, which would have been a much more important component of U.S. infrastructure in those times than in the present. As a result, John traveled from place to place throughout the United States, with the result that by 1896, he had reached Seattle in the state of Washington. Considering that he would have started out on the East Coast because he had immigrated from Sweden, it is clear that John managed to cross the whole width of the United States over the course of his work, which would be remarkable even in modern times in spite of modern technologies.

John W. Nordstrom Found His Fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush

John was still working at a sawmill when he learned about the Klondike Gold Rush. For those who are unfamiliar with said event, what happened was that local miners in the Klondike region had found gold in 1896, which took some time to spread to Seattle and San Francisco because said region was situated in Alaska. However, once the news spread, people flocked to the Klondike region in search for their fortune, with John being one of them. On the whole, the Klondike Gold Rush brought a lot of problems for a lot of people, but John was one of the ones who managed to make it out with a fortune, which happened when he sold a claim for $30,000 and received $13,000 out of the $30,000 upon splitting it with his partners.

John W. Nordstrom Co-Founded a Shoe Store

Having made his fortune in Alaska, John was able to return to Seattle, where he started searching for a business to become involved in. In time, John settled on the shoe business because of his friendship with Carl, who he had met when they were in Alaska. This is because Carl was a shoemaker. In fact, when John and Carl started up their shoe store called Wallin & Nordstrom, they did so by situating it beside Carl's existing shoe repair store, which made for a fair amount of synergy.

John W. Nordstrom Wasn't That Enthused About Selling Shoes

It is entertaining to note that in spite of the fact that John has become well-known because of his connection to a business that started out as a shoe store, he wasn't actually all that enthused about the business of selling shoes. He had co-founded the shoe store because of his friend Carl, who possessed plenty of expertise and experience that proved useful for their business, but on a personal level, John lacked the passion for it. With that said, that isn't to say that John neglected the business that bore his name. Quite the opposite because we know that even by the time he was in his mid 80s, John was still coming into the store for the purpose of chatting with his customers on a close to daily basis. Something that might seem crude by the standards of modern corporations, but remains very useful for business owners to get a good idea of what their customers are thinking about their products and services, thus making it a tool of market research.

Three of the Five Nordstrom Children Became Involved in the Business

In total, John had five children with the woman he married, Hilda Carlson, who was a Swedish immigrant as well. Out of these five children, three were sons, who went on to become involved in running the business that he had co-founded. For example, by the time that Wallin & Nordstrom had done well enough to open up a second store, John's second son Elmer had accumulated enough experience in spite of being a recent graduate that he was entrusted with its opening. Based on this, when John reached the age when he wanted to retire, his sons Everett and Elmer became the natural choices for him to sell his shares to. Likewise, when Carl retired a year after John, he too sold his shares to the two Nordstrom brothers, who in turn, were later joined by their third brother Lloyd.

The Nordstrom Brothers Cooperated Well With One Another

There are a lot of stories about empires that have fallen because the generations that followed their founders were incapable of working well with one another. Sometimes, these empires are very literal. Other times, they are somewhat more metaphorical because severe disunity tends to a huge hindrance for any human organization of significant size. Regardless, the three Nordstrom brothers of the second generation were not subject to this particular problem. Instead, they got along quite well with one another, which in turn, enabled them to work well with one another for the betterment of their shared cause. In fact, it should be mentioned that the three brothers actually took turns serving as the president, which speaks volumes about the degree of their cooperation with one another.

Current Ticker Symbol Is JWN

With that said, while the subsequent generations of the Nordstrom family have had a huge role in guiding Nordstorm to its current status, it is clear that they still remember John W. Nordstrom with fondness. After all, the current ticker symbol of Nordstrom on the New York Stock Exchange is JWN, which of course, are the initials of John W. Nordstrom. Moreover, it should be mentioned that this is a rather recent change in relative terms, seeing as how this isn't Nordstrom's first ticker symbol but rather the one that it took up in 1999 when it moved on over to the New York Stock Exchange.

The Second Generation Were the Ones Who Expanded Nordstrom's Product Range

Considering the range of its products in the present, it is rather remarkable that Nordstrom was still limited to selling shoes as late as the late 1950s. Granted, it had become a remarkable success by that point in time, seeing as how it was on its way to becoming the biggest independent chain of shoe stores in the whole of the United States. However, its product range was nonetheless very limited by modern standards. With that said, it was the Nordstrom brothers of the second generation to led Nordstrom to becoming more than a chain of shoe stores, which was a remarkable achievement because such a huge step isn't the sort of thing that can be taken without encountering significant risks along the way. One simple example is how such a step can cause businesses to lose their focus, which in turn, can threaten the existing customer base that they have built up so far.

The Second Generation Relied on Three Principles For Expansion

It is said that the Nordstrom brothers of the second generation relied on three simple principles for further their expansion in their existing line of business as well as their eventual lines of business. First, they believed in the excellence of their products, which tends to be important because excellent products tend to make people think excellent businesses. Second, they believed in the value of their products, which is important because it ensures that even if a business can't compete on cost, it can still appeal to cost-conscious customers by providing them with more benefits relative to their costs. Third, the Nordstrom brothers believed in customer service, which has been critical for ensuring that customers can get exactly what they want in a manner that is suited to their personal preferences since time immemorial. Summed up, there was nothing particularly special about the principles that the Nordstrom brothers believed in, but they were nonetheless excellent choices because sometimes, the conventional is conventional for very good reasons.

The Second Generation Went Public On the Recommendations of the Third Generation

Eventually, the Nordstrom brothers of the second generation started reaching the age of retirement. As a result, they started discussing what they should do with the business that they had guided for so long. At one point in time, the option of selling the business to someone else came up. However, in the end, the second generation was persuaded by the third generation, which was made up of their sons as well as in one case, their son-in-law, to turn the business into a public corporation. This is the reason that Nordstrom became listed on NASDAQ in 1971 under the name Nordstrom Best, thus resulting in the ticker symbol of NOBE.

Expanded to Alaska Via Acquisition

For the most part, Nordstrom is a business that prefers to expand on its own. However, there was one case of Nordstrom choosing to expand its operations by purchasing something in a similar line of business. In short, Nordstrom purchased the Northern Commercial Company in 1975, which is noteworthy because said business had been operating in Alaska since the earliest times of U.S. ownership of the region. With that said, while Nordstrom picked up the department stores, its rural stores are still running under the old name.

Tends to Expand in a Decentralized Manner

In more recent times, Nordstrom has continued to expand its operations throughout the United States. However, it should be mentioned that it has chosen to expand in what can be called a decentralized manner. For those who are curious, Nordstrom likes to open an initial store in a region of the United States, which is paired with its own distribution center. Once said store is up and running, Nordstrom begins opening other stores in the region, which can benefit from that initial store because of its training as well as its recruitment. Something that makes starting them up much easier than otherwise possible. On the whole, Nordstrom's decentralized approach is a sensible one for the simple reason that different regions have different ways of doing things, meaning that business choices that are right for one region might not be so right for another. Something that has been known to cause serious problems for other department store chains that might have been run in too centralized a manner.

Has Had One Non-Nordstrom CEO

Even now, the Nordstrom family controls a significant percentage of the corporation's shares. Moreover, the Nordstrom family takes a very strong interest in its operations, as shown by the fact that they are involved in running the business at a very senior level. With that said, it is interesting to note that there has been one CEO of Nordstrom who wasn't actually a member of the Nordstrom family, which would be John Whitacre from 1997 to 2001. Otherwise, it is surprisingly accurate to say that Nordstrom is family-operated as well as family-owned in significant part. Something that probably has to do with the fact that the cooperation of the Nordstrom brothers has been passed to their successors.

There Is a Nordstrom Bank

Curiously, there is a Nordstrom Bank, which is wholly owned by Nordstorm. With that said, said bank specializes in the sort of products and services that most people would expect based on its connection with its parent corporation. For example, Nordstrom Bank offers interested individuals the usual consumer-oriented banking products and services, which are in addition to credit cards that are associated with the Nordstrom rewards programs. Naturally, people who spend a lot of time shopping at Nordstrom might want to look into these reward-oriented credit cards, which tend to come with a higher price but can make up for it by offering them bonuses for their shopping. Of course, this is only true if interested individuals already shop in a manner that makes them very compatible with the kind of purchases incentivized by these reward-oriented credit cards because if they contort their existing shopping patterns in hope of benefiting, they could actually end up as the ones who lose out in the end.

Broke Trump's So-Called Tweet Curse

Towards the start of 2017, Nordstrom made the choice to stop carrying Ivanka Trump's line of products on its store racks and shelves. Its reasoning was relatively simple and straightforward. In short, the hit to Ivanka Trump's image because of her connection to her father's presidential campaign had resulted in falling sales from a significant segment of her previous customers. As a result, Nordstrom was removing her products to open up rack-space and shelf-space that could be put to more profitable use by carrying products from more profitable lines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the President of the United States tweeted for the purpose of blasting Nordstrom. Initially, this caused its stock to see an immediate fall, but by the end of the day, Nordstrom's stock price had actually gone up by more than 4 percent, which suggests that there were plenty of people who saw its move as the sensible thing to do for one reason or another. As a result, Fortune labelled Nordstrom as the corporation that broke Trump's so-called tweet curse, which had been known to produce significant movements in the market on previous occasions.

Failed to Go Private in Recent Times

Currently, the Nordstrom family controls more than 30 percent of the corporation's outstanding shares. However, it is interesting to note that there was a recent effort by them to make the corporation private by buying out the rest of those shares, which failed because they were unable to secure the financing needed to do so. More accurately, the Nordstrom family couldn't secure enough financing at an interest rate that they were willing to take on. Instead, they couldn't get a better deal than 13 percent, which is about double of what most retailers would pay for most loans. As a result, the plan is off for the time being, though it remains to seen whether the Nordstrom family will consider giving it another shot in the future.

Has Opened Up a Store in Puerto Rico

Most of Nordstrom's department stores are situated in the United States. However, there are some situated in Canada as well as one situated in Puerto Rico, which opened in 2015. Unfortunately, said location was situated in the Mall of San Juan, which took serious damage in Hurricane Maria. As a result, the Mall of San Juan wasn't reopened until very late in 2017, which was unfortunate but unsurprising because Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster to have ever hit Puerto Rico as far as the records show. So far, there is still no news on whether the Nordstrom at the Mall of San Juan plans to reopen or not following what is said to have been extensive water damage, which is rather concerning considering that it was one of the Mall of San Juan's two anchor stores.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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