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Saks testing new approaches

New prototype stores are on the way for the Saks Department Store Group, corporate parent Saks Inc. revealed last week during the company's fourth quarter conference call.

Saks will open two stores this fall reflecting a prototype that includes new departments and products and an improved layout for shopping. This approach to assortments and merchandising will be on display at a new Younkers unit in Des Moines, Iowa, and a new McRae's store in Birmingham at a renovated site that had been home to a Macy's store. Saks acquired the location in spring 2003.

"We'll continue to transform the traditional department store experience as we design new stores and retrofit existing stores with layouts that are easier to shop and with new departments, products, technologies and visual presentations that make shopping more exciting," said Stephen Sadova, vice chairman and chief operating officer, Saks Inc.

While the company withheld all specifics about the new prototype, the home department will be affected "positively," said a company spokeswoman.

Opening dates are not firm, but are likely to land sometime in September or October.

Saks Inc. will use the prototype units as test sites and, based on the response, will bring the most successful in-store concepts into the division's other retail chains, said Brad Martin, chairman and CEO.

"We've taken the approach that as we (test the new prototype), we've got to have a sufficient number of big, new ideas that are applicable to the bulk of our department store locations," Martin said.

Similarly, the company is working on "reinvigorating" its Parisian stores with new product offerings and improved customer service.

In broader initiatives, the department store group is working to wean itself from promotions, executives said.

Following a test at Parisian stores last year, the company has already begun reducing the frequency of promotions and the depth of discounts across the rest of its department store division.

Also in the works this year, Saks' department stores will continue to step up private label offerings.

"Our private label brands grew by more than 20 percent in revenues last year," Sadova said.

PL now accounts for 15 percent of total sales, up from 12 percent a year ago. One of the drivers of that expansion, the company said, was the launch last fall of the Jane Seymour Collection, which is anchored by bedding but covers several home product categories.

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