By  on June 20, 2006

NEW YORK — Saks Fifth Avenue is going back to the future, relaunching petite clothing in another move to recapture lost customers.

Saks exited petites in January to put more resources into other areas, such as designer accessories and shoes and luxury European labels like Roger Vivier.

But the clamor from small-size women reached Saks' executive suite.

"We heard loud and clear the expression of concern from shoppers in terms of the impact the decision to exit this arena had," Andrew Jennings, Saks' president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

The luxury chain will start selling petites again by launching shops of at least 1,200 to 1,500 square feet in 31 stores beginning in November, with well-known labels such as Eileen Fisher, Ellen Tracy, Lafayette 148 and Dana Buchman. Dresses, casual ready-to-wear and career clothing will be included.

"We reviewed the impact to our valued customers and our business overall and are thrilled to announce our decision to reenter the market," said Ron Frasch, vice chairman and chief merchant.

The private label and petites initiatives are just part of the chain's revised merchandise strategy under new chief executive officer Stephen Sadove to appeal to former customers, particularly older and more traditional shoppers who may have been turned off by the store's younger approach under the previous ceo, Fred Wilson. With Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's having more limited offerings in petites, this could be an opportunity for Saks to gain an edge.

Saks is maintaining its focus on bridge to designer prices, but has a new merchandising matrix with a "good-better-best" and a "classic, modern and contemporary" grid. It's also working to expand its bridge business, which has casual and "modern" components at Saks, and has been aggressively building designer and accessory shops at the Manhattan flagship.

Earlier this spring, Saks reversed another merchandising decision. The store said it would return to the private label business in a big way, beginning in August, after dropping the business about a year before. The revamped private label effort involves a three-pronged approach, starting with the Saks Fifth Avenue Signature collection in August, followed in November by the Saks Fifth Avenue Classic and Saks Fifth Avenue Sport collections. The private label push is expected to affect most, if not all, of the 57 Saks Fifth Avenue full-line stores.

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