Best Buyers 2012: Heidi Wanderley, Neiman Marcus

by Elise Diamantini

Killer instinct: Heidi Wanderley of Neiman Marcus follows her gut.

Heidi Wanderley’s positivity is infectious. She believes if you put good energy into the world, good energy will come back to you. And her motto, “A positive attitude will open the door and hard work will get you the rest of the way,” turns out to be the moral of her story. After graduating from The University of Northern Colorado, she started her career interning at Neiman Marcus’ Denver store and worked her way up. She’s been with Neimans for 11 years and is now the buyer for men’s contemporary sportswear. Wanderley started in women’s, but made the move to menswear three years ago. “I prefer men’s over women’s. Although women’s trends move much faster, nothing beats the men’s market. I work with some really great people.”

She buys between 50 and 60 vendors within denim, separates, collections and advanced collections. “There are 42 stores and we create a package for each one; that way, no two stores have the same assortment. We curate these little vignettes from what we learn from market feedback.” Wanderley’s team is constantly on the phone with the stores and although they don’t visit as often as she’d like, they do a lot electronically. “That’s part of what makes my job fun,” she says. I love listening to store feedback, figuring out what they need, getting it for them and then watching it sell. We’re a store-centric office that thrives on feedback, which is what has made our business so good.”

Wanderley loves to find and nurture small brands. She mentions the launch of Todd Snyder as an example. It all started with an e-mail he sent of his look book. “What caught my attention was the way he put things together; he has an approachable, Americana way of dressing and there was an ease about it that I really liked.”

One of the hardest parts of her job is turning people down, especially when they’re so passionate, but just not a fit for Neiman Marcus. Not surprisingly, she gets tons of appointment requests from new brands. She and her team make a point to see as many as possible, because “you never know when you’re going to find the next big thing.”
Among the changes Neiman Marcus is making: streamlining assortments to show customers an edited, focused message. For fall, a major callout on the floor featured denim in spice colors inspired by the spice markets she saw on a trip to Istanbul. In overall contemporary, it’s the trimmer modernization in silhouette. For spring 2013 there will be a lot of color. She explains, “I called last spring the ‘happy season’ because everyone was showing color and it looked great. Men aren’t afraid to wear color now; it was a new idea last spring that will only continue into spring 2013. My husband wears colorful bottoms, and though he still gets teased by his buddies, I’m confident they’ll all be wearing them soon.”

Wanderley prides herself on building long-term partnerships. Where she has solid vendor relationships is where she has solid businesses. Robert Graham’s Neal Kusnetz says her intuitive sense sets her apart from other corporate buyers. “We do exclusives with Neimans, so I work with Heidi on product development. She knows how to connect the dots—anything she puts together sells. When she’s dealt a hand, she knows how to play it.”

Neiman Marcus SVP Russ Patrick says it’s a pleasure to know that her talents are appreciated by the vendor community. “Heidi is an excellent editor and a great negotiator. She provides professional and on-target feedback to the market, which truly enhances our partnerships.”

When asked what vendors can do to make business better, Wanderley maintains that “if we’re going to keep moving forward, the market needs to keep showing new, innovative trends. Contemporary is an attitude, not an age, so if the market continues to put out trends that appeal to a broad audience then business will stay strong. We’re seeing success stories within denim too. Each of our brands speaks to a different customer, so that business is fun right now. The non-denim component within denim is another big trend.”

She’s also not afraid to make a “gut-level decision” when she’s shopping the market. “If I see bright yellow and I love it, I’m going to buy it, but I also joke because when you do as much analysis as I do, nothing is ever really a gut-level decision!”