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Wilson’s Way for Saks: Building a Distinct Image And Investing in Stores

Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises president and chief executive officer Fred Wilson outlines plans to modernize and energize the firm.

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In part, the team’s vision calls for Saks to develop far greater drama and ease of shopping in its stores (not just the flagship), without a return to its carriage trade roots or an adoption of the cool edge of Barneys New York. How Saks will sharpen its identity is still being determined, Wilson said.

The flagship renovation is critical in establishing the brand positioning. It’s possible that certain past renovations over the last two years, such as the array of luxury accessories shops that line the main floor’s perimeter, could be undone. Over the past couple of years, men’s wear, special sizes and jewelry departments also were re-created, but a cosmetics overhaul for longer sight lines and a design to enhance the main floor grandeur was put on hold.

There’s speculation that the upcoming renovation will be more costly than the $100 million to $120 million estimated by the previous regime a few years ago. Not all of that was spent, and a good portion went for infrastructure improvements, such as air conditioning and converting back rooms into selling space.

Though Wilson wouldn’t provide very much detail on the renovation strategy, he stressed that Saks is seeking “much more innovation” on the selling floors, both in terms of how brands are presented and how categories are merchandised, and that the corporation sees an opportunity to garner greater business from the flagship, which accounts for about 25 percent of total volume. Having a major Fifth Avenue presence, at just under 600,000 square feet (gross), which is more than twice the size of Bergdorf Goodman, has been the prime advantage Saks has over its rival, the Neiman Marcus Group, parent of Bergdorf’s.

Before Saks, Wilson ran Donna Karan International, and before that, he was ceo of the LVMH Specialty Store Retail division and ceo of the LVMH Fashion Group for the Americas, where he dealt with Saks and other luxury retailers as a supplier. As part of his last assignment at LVMH specialty retailing, Wilson oversaw the development of the huge Louis Vuitton flagship on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, which opened in February. It’s just that kind of statement that’s likely to inspire new presentations at the Saks flagship and its branches. “He’s all about big brand presentations. It’s very much in his background,” said one source. Another source said Wilson will dispatch a group of Saks executives to Japan to see how brands are presented in that nation’s department stores. There, collections are often situated in leased departments occupying good chunks of space, 2,000 square feet or so, with a breadth of merchandise.
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