I called a builder two weeks ago to inform him of a new program that I had come across that I thought would be perfect for his operation. This builder is not one of my clients but I have known him for several years and we are on a first name basis when we see each other at one of the homebuilder conventions and meetings.

I first reached the company’s automated phone directory system and, when I could not find the builder’s name listed, was connected to the operator who then connected me with the builder’s “office”. The person who answered then grilled me for ten minutes as to who I was and why I was calling, then informed me that the builder was out of the office but would leave him a message. Twelve days have passed and I have yet to receive a return phone call.

NordstromYesterday I placed a call to Blake Nordstrom, the president of Nordstrom’s department stores. I had previously sent a letter to the company in regard to an issue that I had with one of their stores and, having not received a reply after what I thought was a reasonable time, I decided to follow-up.

The human operator who answered the phone asked me to whom I wished to speak and I replied Blake Nordstrom. I had anticipated being connected to someone in customer service but, to my surprise, I was immediately connected to Mr. Nordstrom who picked up the phone himself. Perhaps this was merely serendipity and the operator had mistaken me for the other Dan Levitan, the one who founded Maveron, took Starbucks public, and is based in Seattle (as is Nordstrom) but no matter, for I was speaking with the President of Nordstrom. After I briefly explained why I was calling, he apologized for his error in not responding to my letter which he said he had not received and he gave me his personal email address so that I could send him a copy of the original correspondence. Two hours later he personally called me back and spent fifteen minutes on the phone with me addressing my concerns.

With 171 retail stores and scheduled to open 25 new stores in the next couple of years, 52,000 employees and $8.5 billion dollars in annual sales, Nordstrom is certainly a larger operation than is the builder’s who I had called and is comparable in size to or larger than any of the homebuilding giants. But Nordstrom is a unique company with a history and corporate culture directed to serving their customers which takes precedence over everything.

For many years, new employees were given a copy of the famous Nordstrom’s Employee Handbook – a single 5 x 8 inch gray card containing only 75 words:

Welcome to Nordstrom.     We’re glad to have you with our Company.

Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

I have always enjoyed shopping at Nordstrom as I have found it to be a “classy” operation. The first of their stores that I visited was in Oakbrook, IL and I was immediately impressed with many of their visible special features such as the concierge desk and the pianist playing the grand piano in the grand foyer. My wife, being far more practical, was attracted to their expansive shoe, purse and cosmetic departments. But having now personally experienced their commitment to customer service, I have become a customer for life. And perhaps that’s why Nordstrom continually makes it onto Fortune’s list of the “100 Best Companies To Work For” at #36 last year.

My average purchase in their stores has been around $200 yet the president of the company not only took my original call but then personally returned the call after researching the issue. A national homebuilder’s average customer probably spends $250,000 today. Do you think, however, that if you were a homebuyer and called the corporate office of Pulte, D.R. Horton, Lennar, NVR or K Hovnanian you would be connected to Richard Dugas, Don Tomnitz, Stuart Miller, Paul Saville or Ara Hovnanian? I don’t think so!

My former partner and Residential Marketing Legend™, Andy Greenman, had a favorite saying that he claimed was passed down from his grandmother, “a fish smells from the head”. I would think that is apropos here.

Now I am certainly not suggesting that the fact that the leadership of the major homebuilders in the country is not reachable by their customers would, by itself, be the reason for the challenges which the homebuilding industry faces today. But if you have recently visited the “builder implode” website (http://builder-implode.com), you would find a list of 82 major builders that have either filed bankruptcy or gone out of business since late 2006 plus 53 smaller builders who have experienced the same troubles. And how many of the top builders in the country have made it on to Fortune’s best companies list?

Retailing Today #1Successful retailers can teach us so much, not only in regard to customer service (according to the book “Discovery-Based Retail” {www.discoverdbr.com }, customer service is the “sum of acts and elements that allow consumers to receive what they need or desire from your retail establishment”) but also in our pricing systems, from the hours that we are open for business, to how we merchandise our wares (what retailers call in-store marketing), and to how we market, advertise and promote our business to our customers.

Homebuilding is a retail business, especially at the production level, and unless we are prepared to embrace proven and successful retail practices then we cannot achieve success.

Please visit our company web site if you would like information on our services – www.levitanassociates.net



  1. Thank you for this. After the last few years, especially, of listening to increasingly negative newscasts & commentors and wondering why the best of the brightest couln’t seem to figure any of it out, I was delighted to read this article – it says so much – about our businesses and the connection to the economic imbalance in the world, not just the building industry. Nordstrom’s Rules resonated a jumping off point within me as I often pondered why all rules mostly began with ‘thou shall not” – not to mention the absolute rudeness and lack of decorum in much of society today. Perhaps we need Mr. Nordstrom to run for President.

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