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Profiles in Excellence.

Nordstrom's Advertising Reflects its Shoppers

When Nordstrom first opened its doors nearly 100 years ago, the small shoe store in Seattle, Washington was bankrolled by owner John W. Nordstrom's Alaska gold rush money. Now a major national retailer selling clothes, shoes, and accessories for men, women, and children, Nordstrom leaders still know how to spot a gold mine. And as the company has embraced its growth, it has also recognized the diversity of potential customers.

Since 1991, Nordstrom, Inc. has featured models with disabilities in advertising and in catalogs. One of the first companies to take this step, Nordstrom has also shown support to the disability community through store accessibility standards, close ties with the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, and charitable contributions to disability-related organizations. The Solutions Marketing Group recently spoke to Amy Jones from Nordstrom Public Relations to find out what impact Nordstrom's disability marketing effort has had on the company.

"Part of our customer base"

Through retail stores from Washington state to Washington, DC and through mail-order catalogs and online shopping opportunities, Nordstrom attracts the shopping dollars of people of all ages and backgrounds. Recognizing the diversity of its clientele, Nordstrom regularly advertises in minority publications including Essence, Latina, and Ability magazines and this year won Fortune magazine's distinction among the 50 best companies for Asians, blacks, and Hispanics. In addition, at least one-third of Nordstrom's advertisements feature models of color and models with disabilities.

"Our intent in showing models with disabilities was not to market specifically to that segment of consumers, but simply to show a diverse mix of people in our promotional materials," says Nordstrom's Amy Jones. "People with disabilities are a part of the diverse makeup of our customer base."

Jones indicates that integrating models with disabilities into Nordstrom's advertising materials and catalogs of clothing and accessories has been a seamless process. They've had no major challenges. "We simply work with contacts and agencies who represent models with disabilities," she says. And the result? "We have received positive feedback from customers who tell us they appreciate our efforts to make sure our promotional materials reflect the diversity of the customers we serve."

Beyond the printed page

Mail-order customers who are wheelchair users may appreciate seeing disabled models in the Nordstrom catalog, but how do the stores rate for accessibility and customer service? Since the early 1990s, as part of the company's ongoing sensitivity training, Nordstrom has offered seminars for employees on ADA compliance. Topics covered include understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act, considerations for garment tailoring for wheelchair users, and job site accommodations for disabled employees.

Most of Nordstrom's stores offer physical considerations to make shopping easier for customers with disabilities. These accommodations include Braille pads in elevators, TTY-equipped public phones, loaner wheelchairs, personal shoppers, and other reasonable accommodations upon request.

For the at-home shopper, Nordstrom's Web site provides several easy shopping options. In January of 1999, the company's Web site,, expanded to make all catalog items available for purchase through the Internet. In addition, a new online shoe catalog announced in October,, will combine the inventories of several leading shoe retailers to offer 20 million pairs of shoes in time for the holiday shopping season.

Into the disability community

With contributions to the American Foundation for the Blind, Special Olympics, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to name a few, Nordstrom has helped underwrite fundraising events or otherwise supported the disability community on a national level. In local areas, the company has representatives on several boards of directors of community organizations and has offered financial assistance to regional centers for independent living, city disability commissions, and state schools for the deaf. These contributions, together with a strong partnership with the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, have helped to win Nordstrom praise from organizations such as the National Easter Seal Society and Disability Rights Advocates. But don't look to Nordstrom to toot its own horn for its efforts to consider the real-life spectrum of shoppers. At Nordstrom, where last year's profits topped $200 million, embracing diversity is just smart business.

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