“This is my second tour of duty,” Julie Gaynor says with a laugh. The new vice president, general manager of Neiman Marcus Westchester in White Plains is referring to her return to the store where she spent 3½ years as assistant manager. In-between, she spent seven years as general manager of the Paramus NM.
But now she’s back in White Plains, having discovered – to tweak a Sammy Cahn song – that it’s just as lovely the second time around.
“It’s been familiar but different,” she says of her return four months ago. “We have a group of tenured individuals that have been with the company upwards of 30 years. That’s been nice to return to. But a lot has changed – makeovers, new faces and new customers.”
Among the new features – the restaurant Mariposa, replacing the signature Zodiac. Out with the astrological signs, in with the butterflies – mariposa means butterfly in Spanish. Add a touch of leopard print and a zesty, refreshed menu that still makes room for Neiman’s trademark melt-in-your mouth popovers with strawberry butter and classic chicken salad dish.
“Customer response has been great, and we’re looking at expanding the hours,” Gaynor says, adding that while The Zodiac was wonderful, “it was time for a change.”
Some things, however, will never change.
“My focus as far as the store is concerned is to continue bringing our customers great service and compelling merchandise,” she says. “In this marketplace, there are so many places they can go. I want us to be the place where they can come … and find what they need without going down to Fifth Avenue.”
To make it easier to reach that clientele, every member of Neiman’s sales staff is equipped with an iPhone 5.
“I want them to reach out to our customers, and for the customers in turn to find them.”
You get the sense that even if Neiman Marcus did not provide the sales staff with the iPhones, Gaynor herself would insist on it. She is that kind of person, an immediately engaging woman whose warmth is offset by her elegant office attire – a black pencil skirt with a kick pleat; a bouclé jacket in gray, the color of the season; black pumps; and pearls with gray overtones. Her bright blue eyes are enhanced by makeup in an attractive pastel palette. More important, having coffee with her in her spacious office is like talking with a longtime friend.
For Gaynor, it’s all about the personal.
“My job wouldn’t exist without everyone on the staff interacting with the customers,” she says. “One of the things I hate the most is being stuck in my own office.”
Instead, Gaynor is the type of GM who’ll point you in the direction of a sales associate so you can get that kettle from MacKenzie-Childs’ new Butterfly Garden enamelware collection that you always wanted, then talk to you while your purchase is packaged and follow up on how you’re enjoying it.
These are people skills she honed back in Dallas – Neiman Marcus’ hometown and hers as well. Gaynor started out in retail as a teenager at a mom-and-pop shoe store to which her mother would drive her after school.
“I liked it,” she says. “There’s always something new in retail.”
There was plenty of formal education, too, but much of her learning curve and strong work ethic came from experience at The Limited and through Neiman’s extensive training program.
“I’ve had wonderful women mentors and a lot of fun. But it is weird that I’ve been with Neiman Marcus 20 years, and 10 of them have been in New York-New Jersey.”
Home is in Dutchess County, which she shares with husband Mike, a partner in an accounting firm and their 17-month-old fraternal twin boys.
“They’re the joy of our lives,” Gaynor says. “We’re so happy we decided to (become parents).”
She acknowledges that it’s a balancing act, juggling her two great loves – family and Neiman Marcus. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.