Bruce Schedler is a pretty happy guy these days. As Vice President for Menswear at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, he’s presiding this weekend over another sold out Chicago Collective, with more than 275 exhibitors, up from fewer than 130 just 5 years ago. And despite the record growth, Schedler says “it’s not our plan to make it the biggest show, just the best. The quality of our exhibitors has never been better.”
But, as many of the 1100 retail attendees remember, things haven’t always been good for Bruce. He started at the Mart about 10 years ago, just as the entire market, which was heavily dress-up based at that time, was going through the transition to more casual lifestyles and devastating many of his long-time exhibitors. Then came September 11th, and the difficult years that followed. Another guy might have jumped ship, but Bruce hung in and guided the show through its comeback and reinvention as a much broader market for the better retailer in both the classic and contemporary businesses.
Schedler has a real and long time love of retailing and men’s clothes. He started out selling retail at the Iron Rail in his home town of Wausau, Wisconsin, and then Cedric’s in Minneapolis, but even from an early age, he had his own ideas about what to wear. “When I was a young boy, my grandmother used to have to make my jackets and ties by hand, because I didn’t like anything they were showing in the stores. I wouldn’t let my mother buy me an Easter suit. She had to come and take me out of school so we could go shopping together”, says Schedler. “I was a picky kid”.
And he’s still picky, especially about the trade shows he runs. “My experience in retailing taught me to look at the Chicago Collective as if it’s a specialty store”, say Schedler. “We strive to have the best lines and the best service in every aspect because the retailers are our customers and we want them to return and buy again. Also, we want them to know that we understand their concerns and frustrations, and try to address those issues. We help them pay for their trip, get them low-cost hotel rooms, and hire great lunch caterers to meet their food expectations. We try to function the way they do. We want them to keep coming back.”
Francesca, Christopher, Bruce and Alyse Schedler at the Chicago Collective in 2006
Bruce loves Chicago. It’s where he met his wife, Francesca, when they both worked at Hart, Schaffner and Marx. He was selling suits and she was working in the piece goods department. They had been seriously dating for a while when the company asked him to move to New York and accept a promotion. He didn’t want to leave Francesca, so he called her into the conference room on the 22nd floor, asked her to marry and move with him. The rest is history. After 2 years in New York, Francesca eventually convinced Bruce’s boss, Ken Hoffman, to move them back to Chicago. They are now comfortably settled in the suburbs with two kids. Daughter Alyse, who is turning 17, will be in town this weekend with friend Lizzie to check out the hunky men’s wear guys at the Collective and visit the StyleMax show. Son Christopher, 13, is still into Abercrombie, but Bruce thinks he’ll eventually come around and vary his wardrobe.
When it comes to his current post, Schedler says he’s enjoyed it more than anything he’s done in his life, especially once the show started to rebound. “I get great support from Susan McCullough and Chris Kennedy at the Mart. It was their patience and continued investment during the difficult times that helped turn the show around.”