VP AND GENERAL MANAGER, SAKS FIFTH AVENUE

By JASMINA WELLINGHOFF
Photography by Candace Schaddelee

After graduating from college with a degree in English, Dennis Trammell took a temporary holiday job with the Parisian department store in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., and “fell in love with it.” He has been in retail ever since, for a total of 31 years. Following the merger of Parisian and Saks Fifth Avenue in 1998, he was happy to stay with the company, eventually rising to the position of vice president and general manager of the Birmingham store. During his tenure, the store’s business doubled over a period of 10 years. Despite deep roots in Birmingham, three years ago Trammell and his wife moved to San Antonio, where he took the helm of the local Saks store in North Star Mall.

guytoknow-trammellWhat appealed to you about retail?
It’s fast-paced and always changing. You are always looking ahead, and you have to be creative and organized. And it’s very competitive, so you are driven to win.

Why did you decide to leave your hometown to take this job?
Opportunity! This store in San Antonio has always been one of the top-performing stores in the entire company. Also, my wife and I became empty-nesters. Our son, who had graduated from college, was working on his MBA in Berlin, Germany, and had just married. So it was a combination of reasons – a sense of adventure and the store that has such a culture and legacy that it represents Saks in a first-class way.

How is this store different from others in the Saks chain?
The most obvious thing is its longevity. It has been here for 31 years. We have two associates who have worked here since the opening, and several others have been with Saks for multiple years. They give the store the culture that it has. The relationships that these associates have created with both the local customers and our Mexican clients have built a lot of customer loyalty. It really stands apart from the others. I think the local clients have a special appreciation for the level of service we offer.

What are your goals for the San Antonio store?
To continue the legacy that it has and to grow even more. We are currently about to start construction on new Gucci and Prada handbag shops. In 2017 we will undertake construction to expand our Louis Vuitton shop. We already have these shops, but we are going to put in new installations. We also continuously edit our merchandise assortment. Based on customer and designer trends, we always upgrade and update our assortments. Clients’ needs have completely changed. Today a person can purchase whatever he or she wants with a touch of a key. So for us, it’s about what kind of experience we can create in the store that cannot be accessed on the internet. That one-on-one experience is what continues to sustain brick-and-mortar stores.

So what do San Antonio customers like?
San Antonio customers love fashion, from A-K-R-I-S to Dolce & Gabbana; they love color and bold prints, but also a classic style such as Cucinelli’s. The local customer is very much a designer client.

In addition to the already mentioned, which other designers do you carry?
McQueen, Max Mora, Emilio Pucci, St. Laurent, Christian Louboutin, Chloe … we have it all.

How much do you personally get involved with buyers and their choices?
We can influence our buyers through communication. In the designer area we have the opportunity to select our buys each season. Outside of designers, it’s more collaboration and the ability to influence but not control the selection. However, the buyers want our information; they want to know what our clients are asking for.

Tell us about the special events that Saks has for its customers.
For instance, recently we had a Dolce & Gabbana luncheon. Our buyer and designer manager prepped the store with extra Dolce & Gabbana pieces, and the designers’ rep flew in from New York for the occasion. It was a luncheon and a fashion presentation for 25 of our best clients. After the lunch, everyone had the opportunity to shop and enjoy one-on-one service from the Dolce team in the fitting room. We had a fabulous day! It goes back to creating that experience for the client that I mentioned before. This past spring, we had three jewelry designers come, and we held a formal dinner event for 50 top clients.

Do you personally interact with customers?
That’s my No.1 job! I would say that 80 percent of my day is spent on the selling floor interacting with customers and associates. I have always been a people person, energized by sharing ideas and assuring that we are delivering the best luxury service that the customer deserves … We also want to create an environment where our associates thrive and enjoy their work because happy associates make happy customers.

Open-air malls, like La Cantera, have become increasingly popular throughout the U.S. Has that trend impacted your North Star Mall operation?
From a proximity standpoint, North Star is more convenient for clients in Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills, Olmos Park or those coming from the airport. Thus Saks, being an anchor of North Star, has the advantage of location for those shoppers. Not to mention covered parking, which is important in the San Antonio weather. The number of our customers has remained steady.

What are the upcoming fashion trends?
For women, there’s a lot of velvet and brocade, over-the-knee boots, chunky heels in shoes. There’s also this glam-grunge look, which is a return to the ‘70s, and a military-inspired look. For men, there’s the new office casual — more fitted with a shorter jacket, maybe with a layered vest underneath; and sneakers are a really big trend. The leather bag rounds up the look for men.

Have you and your wife explored San Antonio since you moved here? Do you have favorite hangouts?
The No. 1 draw for Karen and me is The Pearl. We love the selection of restaurants, the Hotel Emma and everything about The Pearl. But we have enjoyed many terrific restaurants in San Antonio. The food scene here is very attractive.

How much do you personally follow the trends?
(After a brief moment of surprised hesitation) Well, I try to stay on trend.

Have you had opportunities to get involved in the community yet?
Back in Birmingham, I was on the boards of the Juvenile Diabetes Association of Alabama and the Alabama Ballet and was a member of the Birmingham Botanical Garden’s Men’s Club. Here, I am not involved with any boards, but we, as a store, are heavily involved with the Charity Ball, the CTRC’s Key to the Cure fundraising event, the Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi and a few others. We create shopping events for these charities and donate a percentage of the sales to them.