They are the common denominator, as far as Wheeling resident Jennifer Prietsch is concerned. She’s been the general manager of the Macy’s at the Ohio Valley Mall for nearly a year after she and her husband, Mark, relocated from the Pittsburgh area to the Boury Lofts in downtown Wheeling, and it is her strong belief that if the brick-and-mortar retail industry is to survive, people must have fun with people.
“The biggest thing to a customer when they walk into our store is that they want to be serviced when they need it,” explained Prietsch, a member of the class of 1988 from Parkersburg High School. “What we offer at the Ohio Valley Mall is pretty much the same as what Macy’s sells at most of its locations, and that’s why my focus is on the experience a customer has with us.
“If we do not have a product a customer wants in stock, we can order it and have it here very quickly, but if they have a bad experience with us, it’s likely they won’t return any time soon,” she said. “I learned that lesson when I worked in cosmetics, and I have practiced that ever since.”
Following her Wood County high school days, Prietsch moved to Pittsburgh to further her education, and soon after acquiring her associate business degree from the Community College of Allegheny County, she began her retail career at Kaufmann’s in downtown Pittsburgh in 1992. She joined Macy’s in 2001, and once she became a mother of two, she began working Monday through Friday as a member of the Visual Department.
After dabbling with companies like Old Navy and Banana Republic, she returned to Macy’s amid budget cuts, and that meant she would once again re-invent her career to become an assistant store manager at Ross Park Mall. After relocating to Beaver County as the store manager, she guided the closure of the department store and became determined never to repeat that same duty.
“My goal is simply not to close the store at the Ohio Valley Mall, and we did pretty well last year, so it’s looking very positive,” Prietsch said. “We posted some of the best numbers at the mall, and we ended up No. 10 out of all of the Macy’s still in operation. My supervisors were very happy, but in my mind, this business is about people.
“I see it this way; if my associates are happy, I know our customers are going to be happy,” she continued. “I believe being a part of this community is the key because if that’s the case, people will be more motivated to come into our store. That’s how I approach this business anyway.”
Brick and Mortar
At this time, Macy’s at the Ohio Valley Mall employs between 80-90 people, and then during the fiscal year’s fourth quarter, that number jumps to as many as 120. At least 60 percent of those workers are full-time with benefits, and the remainder of the workforce reports on a part-time basis.
“I spend a lot of my energy working with the team so I can explain my approach, but it’s really based on what customers have told me over the years about what’s most important to them when they are in our store,” Prietsch explained. “The associates have to understand that changes are taking place in the retail industry, and one of them is to provide even better service than before.
“I spent nearly two weeks in our shoe department just asking our customers about their thoughts about what’s available, and I asked them about what they would change in the department,” she continued. “I have also entertained focus groups with people from this area so I could collect their insight about what they would like to see us do, and I asked them to tell me about their best shopping experience in the last year. The feedback was tremendous, and that information traveled all the way to our corporate offices, and changes are being made based on it.”
A shopper at the Ohio Valley Mall’s Macy’s may not realize the store’s general manager was the employee who found that hard-to-find size, and that is because Prietsch spends as much as 60 percent of her long work days on the sales floor instead of being cooped up in her office.
“I believe we have to ask questions because it’s a discussion about our customer and what they want,” Prietsch said. “What don’t you like? What can we do differently? What brings you in? What would bring you in?
“When I ask those questions, those with the answers are problem solving for me,” she explained. “It’s how we can make changes to improve what we do, so I am a firm believer in that process.”
For the American consumer, retail shopping has never been more convenient because of the online option, and websites such as Amazon and many big-box retailers heavily market products on most social media platforms. Most recently, officials for Toys R Us have announced a company-wide closure, and similar actions by Kmart and Elder Beerman have left most of the west side of the Ohio Valley Mall barren of business.
“If the industry is going to survive, the industry has to start giving the customer a reason to come to the store,” Prietsch said. “We are all aware of the declines that have taken place with the brick-and-mortar industry for a number of different reasons, and that’s why it’s so important to make the right changes.
“If people have a bad experience doing whatever, they usually always do what they can so they don’t have a repeat experience,” she said. “But when they have a great experience, they enjoy repeating it. It’s human nature.”
A Wheeling Life
Mount Lebanon is a quaint neighborhood in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh with the majority of homes featuring large yards, long sidewalks and a need to drive to commercial areas. When she and her husband were offered the opportunity to seek a change in the Upper Ohio Valley, it was the city of Wheeling that quickly attracted them.
But not to a similar neighborhood; instead to the downtown district.
“When I looked to move somewhere closer to the store, I fell in love with Wheeling as soon as we drove through it,” Prietsch said. “I loved the water, the architecture and the bike trails. There were real people on the streets, small businesses trying to make a go of it, and Centre Market is just tremendous. I was very enticed.
“And the Boury Lofts were very attractive to us because, for a lot of years, I was the one mowing the grass and taking out the garbage when my children were younger, so I was looking for a place with a lot less maintenance,” she explained. “Plus, we have a nice space, but it’s not a huge space, so I’ve learned to reduce the amount of stuff that we have. Plus, I love the exposed brick and the big windows. Those elements make it seem like a much larger space than it actually is.”
The couple enjoy their proximity to the many festivals that take place at Heritage Port and in the Centre Market area, and they often take to the jogging/bike trails along the Ohio River and out to Elm Grove. Although their heating bill was far higher than expected this past winter season, Jennifer and Mark are very much looking forward to the warmer months.
“I thought it was a very cool thing that we were able to sit in our living room and enjoy the fireworks on the river and that we were able to watch the Christmas parade from the windows in our loft,” Prietsch explained. “We love to be in the heart of all the energy, and we really do feel it in the downtown.
“Our parking situation is something that needs to be refined, I believe, because it’s been really inconsistent when other events are going on, and I sometimes get home kind of late. We knew there would be evenings when our parking would not be available, but it’s surpassed the number we agreed to a while ago, so we’re hoping the building manager can get that figured out for us,” she added. “I am hoping we get to watch as the open spaces and vacant lots fill up in the future, and that’s because I hope to see even more people in the downtown area.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)