NEW YORK — Paige Thomas is a retailer, so she’s an optimist — it goes with the territory. But she’s also a realist, and the president and chief executive officer of Saks Off 5th knows that during challenging times, the off-price sector historically outperforms other retail channels.
“In turbulent times, off-price wins,” Thomas said during the company’s holiday preview event at the Crosby Hotel in New York City last week. Thomas, whose career includes stints at Nordstrom Rack, Kohl’s and Fred Meyer, said she believes Off 5th will have a good holiday season. “We’re optimistic,” she said. “After 30 years in the business, I know there’s always a holiday. And by focusing on gifts and providing value, that’s our differentiator to win.”
Thomas, who took over the top spot in February of 2020, said unlike the off-pricers of the past, nearly all of the product in the Off 5th stores is “relevant, seasonally appropriate” merchandise purchased by a dedicated buying team, not leftovers that didn’t sell from the Saks Fifth Avenue flagships.
“Our sweet spot is modern luxury,” she said, “and making that accessible to our customer.”
She said the Saks Off 5th customer views shopping “as a hobby, loves brands,” and is seeking “incredible value.”
When she joined, Thomas said the assortment for the company that is valued at $1 billion was too narrow. So in the past two years, some 1,000 brands have been added to the mix. Today, high-end labels such as Christian Louboutin, Gucci, Burberry, Stella McCartney, Givenchy, Giorgio Armani, Bottega Veneta and hundreds more are offered on the Off 5th site and at its 100-plus retail stores.
Among the areas that were beefed up, she said, were the casual and athletic parts of the business. So Pure Navy, Spyder, Calvin Klein, Free People Movement and DKNY Sport for women and J. Lindeberg, Adidas, Puma, Bonobos Golf, New Balance and Greg Norman for guys are also part of the mix.
“Our core niche is designer luxury, but we have to have what people wear every day, too,” she said. “So we set out to identify the brands that are meaningful.”
While the bulk of sales continue to derive from womenswear, men’s is playing a bigger role these days.
“He’s very fashion savvy,” said Thomas, who had been the head menswear merchant for Nordstrom before joining Saks Off 5th. “This is the cool guy. He’s not wearing a head-to-toe suit or a tie but he’s wearing sneakers and loves a bit of street mixed with his denim. He’s a fun, fashion customer.”
In spring, Thomas said the company relaunched a brand campaign, Where Fashion Takes Off, where top labels such as Valentino and Dolce & Gabbana were featured in the ads. Thomas said the days when vendors restricted off-pricers from advertising their names is over.
“We have incredible partnerships to source goods,” she said. “The safest place for our brands to be is surrounded by their peers.”
Over the summer, she said Saks Off 5th launched Brand Flash where a curated assortment of brands, such as Gucci sunglasses, are offered for 24 to 72 hours only. “We really get a huge lift from that,” she said. “They’re not always huge discounts, but it’s a way to feature special merchandise and offer our customers treasure hunt finds.”
For holiday, Thomas said YSL and Golden Goose will be among the brands offered in special Brand Flash promotions.
In other holiday pushes, the retailer will offer an expanded assortment of fine jewelry, a category Thomas said “differentiates us in the off-price sector,” and the mix will include lab diamonds, which offer “high-carat weight at incredible value, which is a big trend in the market.” The retailer is also offering a Build Your Own option online where customers can create their own rings, necklaces, etc., by selecting the metal, the size of the stone, the shape, and other details. “Holiday will be a first for that,” she said. “And we think it’ll be good in spring as well.”
Other top gifts the retailer expects to do well for holiday include Stuart Weitzman’s Keelan boot; an Ugg shearling bucket hat; Gucci’s 55-mm square sunglasses; Valentino Voce Vita two-piece fragrance set, and Effy 14-karat yellow gold, onyx and diamond heart ring.