Mercyhurst Magazine Spring 2013

Fashion Star

Guest Check Before hotel “fxer” Anthony Melchiorri and the Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible can help a struggling facility, they need the lowdown on its operations. As they prepped for the popular show’s second season, they turned to Mercyhurst graduate Derek Wood ’91 and his company, Guest Check. Wood conducted anonymous onsite inspections (aka mystery shops) at the hotels in question, checking out everything from the check-in process to food and beverage services to Internet speed. Waldorf-Astoria Manager Eric Long, a long-time Guest Check client, recommended Wood for the job. After earning his hospitality degree, Wood worked with Applebees, Hyatt and Sheraton Hotels and ran two small B&Bs. His fnal job on the operations side was opening and running a full-service, privately owned, 62-room hotel and restaurant in Colorado.

Erika Ballman De Salvatore ’00 is taking her strong suit – a critical eye – to the set of NBC’s Fashion Star where, as the program’s featured buyer for Express, she makes decisions that stand to propel an aspiring designer’s career into retail rapture or stop it dead in its tracks. A Mercyhurst fashion merchandising and Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, De Salvatore is director of visual merchandising for Express and lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she has been a member of the Express corporate team since 2003. De Salvatore got her career start in the late 1990s at the Millcreek Mall Express store, where she eventually became manager. Today, much of her time is spent on the road, traveling among the 600+ Express stores, refning brand presentation and gaining inspiration for what is next. The busy wife of Danny De Salvatore and mother of 4-year-old Massimo, she never aspired to be a TV personality. To the extent that Fashion Star speaks to her passion, though, she jumped at the chance. Fashion Star , hosted by Louise Roe, Glamour magazine’s fashion editor- at-large, each week gives contestants a challenge to design a certain type of clothing. They work with guidance from celebrity mentors Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos.

While running hotels, he looked for help assessing his own operations – a way to evaluate his services through the eyes of guests. When he couldn’t fnd the right company to provide that guest perspective, he launched his own. The inspectors Guest Check contracts have worked in more than 30 states, Mexico, Canada, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The next step, he hopes, is a partnership that would allow him to expand into Europe. Wood is married to fellow Mercyhurst alum Wendy Smith Wood ‘91 and they have three kids, Wyatt (13), Brooks (11), and Ava (5). The Woods live in Golden, Colo., where Wendy runs her own portrait/ photography business.

De Salvatore has bantered with them all and felt very much at home, a state of confdence she said Mercyhurst helped engender.

“The minute I met Marilyn Smith (then chair of fashion merchandising), I felt a connection; something magical happened and I knew fashion was where I should be,” De Salvatore recalled. “Marilyn also told me I had the power of public speaking and she drove that home every time I presented. She would say, ‘When you speak, you command an entire room.’” De Salvatore and representatives of Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue are charged with evaluating contestants’ designs and bidding on those they wanted to carry in their stores. “The premise of this particular reality show is very diferent,” De Salvatore said. “The designs the buyers purchase become available immediately to the public. Fashion Star defnitely meets the instant gratifcation demands of today’s younger generation.”


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