From Toys to Handbags, Boscov’s Has ‘All the Departments You Would Hope to Find’

NILES, Ohio – Jonella Spencer of Lowellville credits a friend with suggesting she look into a job at Boscov’s Department Store after the Reading, Pa., company announced in early 2020 it would open its 49th location at the Eastwood Mall.

The friend, a frequent Boscov’s shopper, said the retailer is going to be a great store to work for.

So far, Spencer, a 30-year veteran of the retail industry who manages the young men and athletics department, agrees. “I love it,” she remarked.

“We’ve got the store ready to go,” she added. “It’s great to work for.”

Spencer is one of approximately 220 employees hired to work at the Niles Boscov’s, which begins three days of events Thursday marking the store’s opening. Its planned October 2020 opening was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 180,000-square-foot store is the largest in the mall complex, confirmed Joe Bell, director of communications for the Cafaro Co., which owns the mall.

“It’s been a terrific choice for us and we’re looking forward to a very, very big opening,” Jim Boscov, chairman and CEO, said.

Jim Boscov, chariman and CEO of Boscov’s.

The store will open to the general public Friday, followed by grand-opening events Saturday including a ribbon-cutting and fireworks.

The privately held, family-owned retailer only opens one store per year, Boscov said. The company first looks for “an opportunity for a store,” but “nobody’s building malls these days,” he said. The Cafaro Co. had the former Sears space available, which was too small for Boscov’s needs, but the company enlarged it to accommodate the retailer.

The average store size is about 180,000 square feet, affirmed Gary Boyer, chief stores officer and senior executive vice president for Boscov’s, who leads the opening of new stores.

“Our practice is to open one store a year,” Boscov said. “There are more opportunities out there but … it’s a family business, you want to treat it like you want to treat everybody, like a member of the family, and give it the care and feeding and nurturing that it needs and the attention that it needs.”

Also as a privately held company, Boscov’s isn’t under pressure to cater to market pressures.

“If we were publicly held, our shareholders would expect us to be opening as many stores as we possibly could,” he continued. “So it’s really a pleasure to be a family owned business that can do things that are right for the company, because you’re working for the customer, you’re not working for the market.”

In addition, when a store opens, company executives, sales people and managers are brought in from other stores to help prepare and to assist for a few weeks after.

“I don’t believe you teach the culture of the company by handing people a handbook and say, ‘Here, read this.’ You learn it by working side by side with people before the opening. And then we’ll have people here for two, three and four weeks after the opening. You can’t ask people to be away from home more than a week or two once a year. That’s a big ask.”

Boscov’s is different from other department stores in several key ways, Boscov said. While other stores have struggled, he attributes Boscov’s success to having “all the departments that you would hope to find in department stores.” Many stores have eliminated low-margin or low-traffic categories, which encourages customers to shop elsewhere to find what they want or need.

“We have a toy department that’s not just there November and December. We’ve got a good toy department every single day of the year,” he said. Other features include a candy counter and optical center.

Other differences include wider merchandise selection than other retailers offer, he pointed out. The handbag department offers items prices from $9.99 to $300. He also likes to use the selection of coffee makers – 24, he counted – ranging in priced from about $20 to $200.

Gary Boyer, chief stores officer and senior executive vice president for Boscov’s.

“They all serve different purposes, but I think you’re going to find that in every department you’re going to find better prices” than competitors offer, he said. He reported he sees people ordering Boscov’s merchandise online from states where the retailer doesn’t operate any stores, such as Texas and California.

“The pricing is very good. We test it all the time,” he said.

In addition, he emphasized the community focus that Boscov’s brings, such as the “charity day” event today. The event raises money for nonprofits that sold passes to the event. He also cites the in-store auditorium that is open for community organizations.

A new travel agency concept will be piloted at the Niles store that will let customers connect virtually with counselors at Boscov’s home base. The concept grew out of the retailer’s experiences during the pandemic.

Boscov said the store is prepared for potential merchandise shortages ahead of the critical holiday shopping season. Some merchandise might be hard to get “if you’re a behemoth and you need a million of an item,” but “we’re not a behemoth in the industry,” he said.

“Our buyers work very hard on close relationships with our vendors. They’re on the phone every day checking on the deliverability of orders,” he continued. “We don’t see that it’s going to be a problem for us.”

Work started about six months ago on preparations for the opening, including arranging equipment, getting supplies and “just coordinating from any different divisions in the company” to ensure everything runs smoothly, Boyer said.

Boyer acknowledged he wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to staffing the store. Employers nationwide in most sectors report challenges in hiring, but the store had a “very successful hiring process,” he reported. Boscov’s officials were “most impressed” with the quality of those hired, “hard working, very focused on doing the job,” he remarked.

Offering a “very competitive package of wages and benefits” led to “a very good number of people and applicants,” Boscov said.

“We’ve hired over 225 local people who will be members of our staff and we’re looking to add to that as well,” he added. Only three or four employees have been brought in as part of the permanent staff.

Jane Evans, department manager for lingerie and plus sizes at Boscov’s.

Plans are to bring employment closer to 250 by Thanksgiving, Boyer said.

Jane Evans of Warren, department manager for lingerie and plus sizes, brings 20-some years of retail experience as well. Like her co-worker Spencer, she is pleased with what she has seen from her new employer so far.

“It’s more hands on. We are in direct contact with the buyers and upper management,” she said. “This is a much more family-based atmosphere.”

Spencer agreed.

“I can feel that even with the higher-ups coming in,” she said.

“Every store tells you they’re family-oriented, but I really feel it this time,” she added. “They really seem like they care about their employees.”

Boscov likewise praised the new employees.

“I have to tell you how impressed I am with the community,” he said. The employees have great eye contact and smile right away. “These are people who are here to serve,” he said.

Boscov didn’t rule out the possibility of opening another store in the Mahoning Valley market, but there are no definite plans.

“We have to see,” he said. “We’re anticipating doing very good business, but right now our focus is on the opening of this store, and then we’ll take a look around and see what other opportunities exist.”

Pictured: Those gathered for the Good Morning, Niles breakfast at the Eastwood Mall welcomed Boscov’s executives to Niles.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.