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Saks’ About-Face: Return to Petites

Saks Fifth Avenue is doing another about-face and returning to selling petites, after dropping the size range completely in January.

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.

Petites deliveries will coincide with resort fashions, which hit stores in the late fall. Each store involved in the program will create a “dedicated” petites area.

“This really works all together with our major initiative addressing who the Saks customer is and being very customer focused,” said Joseph Boitano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for women’s and children’s.

Saks’ corporate merchants have discussed the petites strategy with store managers and regional store executives to determine consumer interest in the category, Boitano said. The retailer will conduct focus groups to find opportunities in petites. There will also be early trunk shows to educate customers that Saks is back in petites.

Saks had been a pioneer in selling smaller sizes for decades. During its heyday, petites represented a $50 million business at Saks, which diminished to about $35 million in sales in recent years.

“The petite business had been a very basic bridge assortment,” Boitano explained. “We are now looking to explore new opportunities and different lifestyle dressing for this customer. There could be opportunities in casual, in dresses, in evening and there are a couple of vendors outside the bridge area that might consider working with us to develop products.”

When the bridge business started to falter, so did petites. However, Boitano said, “We are seeing a nice turnround in our classic bridge business right now, with spring and even with early fall. That should translate at the petite level, too.”

The petite category has also been less robust because Americans are getting larger. Those who are able to keep their petite physiques can find high-quality garments in the designer or contemporary departments of stores like Saks or Neiman Marcus. Designer labels tend to run small in size.

Macy’s has an extensive petites offering, most noticeable on the fifth floor of the Herald Square flagship. Among the labels there are Karen Kane, Anne Klein, Due Per Due, DKNY Jeans, Sigrid Olsen, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Jones New York, Liz Claiborne, as well as private labels INC, Alfani, Style & Co. and Charter Club. Petite-sized customers are considered to be those five feet, four inches tall and shorter.

At Saks, petites will be available in the Fifth Avenue flagship as well as branches in Chevy Chase. Md.; Short Hills, N.J.; Chicago; Las Vegas; Beverly Hills, Dallas; and Birmingham, Ala. among other locations.