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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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“Fred Wilson is bringing a clear vision of what he sees the future will be for Saks,” said Gil Harrison, chairman of Financo Inc. “Since he took the job, he has visited every store and met with all of the major vendors to personally understand their product and commitment to rebuild Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises. He understands brands and the strength of brands, and from his experience at LVMH, he has seen how department stores and other retailers have built brands throughout the world. It is fair to assume that, as time goes by, he will utilize these skills in his analysis of the Saks Fifth Avenue franchise.”

Ron Frasch, the former Bergdorf Goodman ceo who is currently a Saks Inc. executive responsible for private label and international development, is also a believer in big brand presentations. At Bergdorf’s, he created “worlds” of Chanel and Giorgio Armani housing all or most of a brand’s products in a single shop environment. Saks, with its much greater space, could very well create a “universe” of Chanel or Vuitton, even duplicating assortments in certain categories, such as handbags, in different sections of the store. Frasch has not been given an official title but that’s expected to be cleared up in the future, although not imminently. Given his prior Bergdorf’s experience and competitive restrictions imposed by his contract there, the role he plays at Saks Fifth Avenue is currently limited, but over time, those restrictions expire.

Two other key members of the new Saks team that will influence the store’s direction and presentation are Andrew Jennings, president and chief merchandising officer who formerly ran Holt Renfrew in Canada, and Terron Schaefer, senior vice president of marketing who was worldwide creative director at the Simon Property Group. Both are predisposed to create splashy, comprehensive merchandise and marketing promotions, so changes at Saks, both physically with the flagship and strategically, could entail a level of flamboyance not seen at the retailer in years.

“Saks is already well on its way to strengthening the talent on its organization, and next will be to give the [chain] a universal point of view, so every Saks has the same panache and glitter as the flagship in New York,” said Harry Bernard, executive vice president of San Francisco-based Colton Bernard Inc. “That’s been one of their most serious difficulties in the past. They’ve got to go in the direction of luxury, to reposition on an equal footing as Neiman Marcus. Fred Wilson’s ability to motivate is one of his strongest assets.”
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