It’s been perpetuated by having three owners and a string of management changes in the last decade. Yet, now Saks officials point to their latest store opening in Las Vegas and ongoing renovation of its New York flagship as proof that the company is raising standards and, more importantly, has a grip on its strategic direction.
"We are delivering on our promise that Saks will be the ‘most inviting luxury experience,’" said Christina Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises.
She’s quoting the store’s internal mission statement, which last year was tweaked from Saks as the "accessible luxury experience." It is part of the march to present a clearer luxury identity and create a broader appeal. From its own research, Saks has learned that many people think of the store as intimidating, traditional and suited for an older Park Avenue crowd. But Johnson has been creating committees to get merchants to come up with new fashion ideas and ways to personalize looks for customers, versus dressing customers in head-to-toe designer looks. The store’s latest marketing mantra is "Make it Your Own."
The company also is refocusing private label offerings more to baby boomers, has been building up contemporary offerings at a faster clip than Neiman Marcus and, in January 2002, the Saks Inc. corporation added a strategic slot, hiring Stephen Sadove, a Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. senior executive, as vice chairman to help Saks Fifth and the Saks Inc. department stores develop branding strategies.
What the Saks brand stands for has been debated for years, and endlessly compared to Neiman’s, which exhibits a greater degree of uniformity in selection and presentation from door-to-door. The Saks presentation, as one insider said, has been "a little hen-pecked all over the place."
But that kind of comment gets the dander up at Saks. "It’s totally unfair," Johnson stated. "We have gone into every flagship market from 1995 and on, and increased our square footage in every major marketplace. Seventy-five percent of the portfolio has been remodeled since 1996. The bulk of our stores are in very good condition.