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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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However, that strategy may take a different route. Asked if the plan is still to open licensed stores abroad, Wilson replied, “We are not sure, ultimately, what form [the strategy] will take.”

Private label represents just 4 to 5 percent of the retailer’s total volume of about $3 billion, including direct businesses and outlets. “We believe in private label. It will be an important part of the business,” Wilson said. Asked if he wants to increase private label, Wilson replied, “Probably, but we are reviewing it carefully now.”

The outlet strategy is also under scrutiny. While, since its inception, Saks has generally been pleased with the productivity of the outlets, in the past, some Saks executives have expressed reservations about the value the units bring to the Saks image and whether the company opened too many outlets, which made it challenging to get enough good designer merchandise to present alluring assortments off-price at each location. Currently, there are 54 units around the country. Asked about its current performance and if the concept had room for growth, Wilson said, “We are trying to maximize the business in its current format. Right now, it is doing fine.”

Among the regular-priced Saks Fifth Avenue stores, the presentation has been erratic, with about 12 to 15 locations said to be weak. Saks would close some doors, but it’s not that simple, due to lease obligations.

However, Wilson implied that quality standards will be raised wherever Saks is situated. Asked about flagship enhancements translating to branches, Wilson said, “We see opportunities right through the chain,” though for years, Saks has been hampered by agreements vendors have with Neiman’s and other competitors.

“We will be putting in the SFA brand filter in as many places as we can, as quickly as we can. Part of the vision is that we believe in consistency,” Wilson stated. “We think all great brands have consistency.”
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