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Von Maur's strategy of steady growth pays off during downturn

While some retailers are scaling back on growth, Von Maur is steadily growing in the Midwest, company president Jim von Maur said Monday.

The Davenport-based department store chain opened its 24th store last week. The store in Overland Park, Kan., is a two-story, 142,000-square-foot facility. In September, the 23rd store opened in Dayton, Ohio.

The U.S. Commerce Department reports  U.S. consumer spending in September fell by the largest percentage in more than four years.

But the 135-year-old retailer continues what von Maur termed steady, stable and successful expansion  across the Midwest.

“Before entering new communities, Von Maur conducts extensive research to ensure the areas we’re entering will enthusiastically support the addition of a Von Maur store,” Jim von Maur said. “But most importantly, focusing on our most important resources — our customers and employees — positions us to continue our expansion strategy throughout the Midwest and remain a stronghold in the retail community for years to come.”

He said the retailer now operates in nine Midwestern states. Missouri is expected to become the 10th when a new store opens in 2010 in St. Louis. Two other stores also are in the works — in Plainfield, Ill., scheduled to open in 2010 or 2011, and Joliet, Ill., set to open in 2011.

“We are excited to keep growing, and as we do, we continue to add more jobs in the Quad-Cities,” said von Maur, the fourth generation of his family in the business.

With each store that is opened, more people are needed in the corporate office in Davenport, he said. Currently, there are about 230 people at corporate headquarters and about 4,000 total in the entire chain.

“Two is kind of our average,” he said, referring to the number of stores that open each year. “It usually comes out to two stores a year. But we have no real pattern … whenever we find the right opportunity.

“We could have chosen the other path, going after faster growth,” he said. “But when we have a downturn like we’re in now, that would not have served us. The smart, disciplined growth allows us in a down market to continue to grow while others pull back.”

For the current holiday shopping season, forecasters are predicting an increase of about a 2 percent in retail sales nationally. But von Maur said if big-box stores like Target and Kmart are removed from that equation, forecasters are predicting a decrease in total retail sales. He said von Maur management is  predicting a small, 1 to 2 percent, increase for all of its stores, despite the economic crisis.

“This is some of the toughest business we have seen in a long time,” he said.

Von Maur’s online business also is helping.

“That has been a very hot growth area for us,” von Maur said. “It is a small percentage (of sales) from our Web site … but it is growing very quickly. It’s going to be a significant part of our business once it has time to develop. We have only been doing it for a couple of years.”

Von Maur was founded 135 years ago in downtown Davenport by C.J. von Maur.

As for long-term plans, Jim von Maur said the retailer will maintain the same strong business approach as it eventually looks at other markets.

“In the long term, we want to be in as many communities as we can in the United States,” he said. “As we focus on the middle section of the country, when we think the opportunity is right, we will venture into other segments of the country. We are not sure if it will be the eastern seaboard, the south or southwest. We are not sure when it will be. But we hope to never stop growing.”

Doug Schorpp can be contacted at (563) 383-2292 or

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