At the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship, roughly 75 percent of the main floor is walled off and under construction.
It’s no secret the flagship is undergoing a multiyear, $250 million renovation, though it’s surprising to see such a big chunk of the first-floor square footage under wraps at one time. Main-floor renovations at Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Lord & Taylor stores have been more phased in, at most around 40 percent of the space under construction at a time, allowing for business to be conducted without enormous disruption and merchandise to be temporarily relocated.
Saks, apparently, has a different approach.
“It’s all about how fast we can deliver. It’s very important to move as fast as you can, especially on a main floor,” Richard Hamori, head of global design and planning for Hudson’s Bay Co., which owns Saks, told WWD. “Retailing moves fast.”
Hamori took a few questions following a panel discussion on “Changing the Blueprint: the Department Store in 2019.” The event was organized by the Retail Design Institute and sponsored by Highland Associates and 24 Seven, which hosted the event Wednesday evening at its new headquarters, 41 Madison Avenue.
In May, Saks unveiled a modern, comfortable and service-oriented beauty floor on two, boldly relocating the category from the main floor where handbags and accessories will be sold. However, the impression on two is limited by the barricades in the center of the floor for construction of an escalator from the main floor.
Shoppers have been curious about why the beauty floor and its escalator didn’t get up and running simultaneously, but Hamori said it was physically impossible due to structural elements and cutting out the floor. Once construction is finished – the escalator is expected to be running beginning in February 2019 – the second floor will be visible from the main floor, beckoning shoppers to visit beauty.
“When I saw the floor, it was like, ‘wow, they’re going full-blast. Normally, retailers would phase it in,” said one retail source with experience in renovations. “I bet if they didn’t have the escalator under construction, they would have gone piecemeal.” The source also suggested that Saks wisely figured the best timing for the major construction would be through the summer, typically slower retail periods for upscale stores until fall swings into high gear.
Moving beauty up to two “was a huge, huge risk,” Hamori told the audience at the forum. “Brands were skeptical, but at the end of the day, everyone signed on but no one was sure.” It turns out, “Customers love us,” Hamori said. “The energy of the floor is very different. It tells us beauty doesn’t have to be on the main floor. I am glad we did it. It opens up for us a whole new approach on how we think of the beauty business and how far we can push it.”
Seems Saks and HBC like to move fast on projects. Hamori said in The Netherlands, HBC opened 13 stores in 12 months starting in 2017 by converting former Vroom & Dreesmann stores. “It was a lot of stress on the team, a lot of stress on the business. Nevertheless, the faster we go to market, the better we are. This gives us an opportunity to learn and adjust quickly.”
Other speakers on the panel were John Santore, manager of operations, merchandise presentation at Century 21 Stores; Kedar Deshpande, director of financial planning and analysis at Nordstrom, and Tony Riese, vice president of construction and facilities for Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Roe Palermo, divisional vice president of in-store presentation for Lord & Taylor and Saks Off 5th, moderated the panel.
They were all asked to name their favorite projects. Hamori cited HBC’s expansion in The Netherlands. Riese cited the renovation of Macy’s Herald Square. Santore mentioned a video he created on dressing mannequins, and Deshpande cited the Nordstrom flagship on Manhattan’s 57th Street, scheduled to open next year. “We’re going through a lot of pain, as everyone is fully aware of, but at the end of the day it’s going to be a beautiful building,” said Deshpande. “This is my first time working on a project of such magnitude and scope.…It’s putting me to the test. That’s what I like — challenging myself.”