Fall 2015 Perspective My Offsite The Groundwork A Window On Retail Suzy Davidkhanian Main
The twice-daily walks of Macy's marketing executive Suzy Davidkhanian provide useful views of the retail landscape. Photograph by Rebecca Greenfield

The Groundwork: A Window on Retail

Suzy Davidkhanian, '06, prepares for the workday and sneaks in a bit of market research by commuting on foot.

Suzy Davidkhanian, '06, vice president of market trends at Macy’s, avoids the concentrated, close-quartered stress of New York subway commuters by walking to and from work every day—as a meditative ritual, street-level industry research tool, and pedestrian-powered idea generator.

The average American spends more than 200 hours a year commuting. These are notoriously stressful hours for most, usually spent stuck in traffic or crammed into subway cars. But Davidkhanian has managed to make her morning and evening commutes highlights of her day. 

For the eight years she’s worked at Macy’s—first as an associate in the merchandising office, now as vice president of market trends—Davidkhanian has walked the 1.2 miles from her home in Midtown Manhattan to her Herald Square office, invaluable 30-minute city adventures. 

“It feels like I never take the same route twice,” Davidkhanian said during a walk on a sunny morning in late June. Her one regular stop: coffee at Essen on Madison Avenue and 41st Street. “I follow the traffic lights, rain or shine, unless it’s freezing out. It never gets boring.” 

There’s an undeniable value in analog moments of observation—turning attention to the kind of infinitely varied scenes that unfold in real life versus on a screen. And some studies have shown that walking, like running and other forms of cardio, can help reduce stress as powerfully as a mild tranquilizer.

For Davidkhanian, the walks have become an essential part of her life, serving as a regular way to mentally prepare for and decompress from  the workday. 

They’re also, in a sense, a chance for her to do some undercover window shopping. The dedicated street-level perspective provides real-time market research that’s tremendously useful for her work at Macy’s: “By looking at store window displays, I get a big-picture idea of what’s going on in the retail world,” Davidkhanian said. “It’s like reading the news,” only filtered for her industry. Seeing the latest Lord & Taylor looks, from the point of view of a consumer passing by, is as important to this self-described retail fanatic (“I’m obsessed”) as reading Women’s Wear Daily

That Davidkhanian finds the survey of shop windows relaxing is a sign she’s in the right line of work. She doesn’t need much more than daily walks to counter stress, because she doesn’t have that much of it. “I love what I do,” she said. “It’s creative but also very analytical. My team’s responsibility is to better understand where Macy’s resides within the competitive landscape to help shape strategies—that means spending most of my day sitting in meetings.”

Fulfilling, yes, but hardly peripatetic. All the more reason to start the morning and cap the day in motion, adding bookends of solitude and head clearing. 

—As told to Carey Dunne