Byline: Neal Turnage

SARASOTA, Fla. — Saks Fifth Avenue is determined to fill the void in luxury retailing on Florida’s west coast and central region.
The success of the company’s store in Naples, which opened in 1992, underscored the appetite for luxury goods and spurred two additional openings on the west coast, in Fort Myers on Nov. 8 and here last Friday.
Saks has set the opening of a full-line store in Orlando’s Florida Mall, near Walt Disney World, for this Friday.
In addition, Saks officials said they hope to open a store in Tampa in 1998 and are looking at sites there.
“Take the New York store out of the equation and our biggest sales and profit margins are in Florida,” said Saks chairman and chief executive officer Philip B. Miller. “The west coast of Florida is clearly where the growth is.”
As reported, Saks also considers California and Texas ripe for expansion, but the $1.4 billion retailer is further along in its Florida strategy. The retailer operates 10 stores in the state, more than in any other. There are eight Saks units in California.
The Fort Myers and Sarasota stores, both 40,000-square-foot resort units, are each projected to do $15 million in sales in their first year. The Orlando store, which is 104,000 square feet, is expected to do $25 million in the first year.
Sources said the store here expected to do $100,000 on its first day, but rang up nearly $200,000.
The three new stores mark the introduction of luxury retailing on a broad basis to a region with shoppers who are believed to be hungry for labels such as Gucci, Isaac Mizrahi, Calvin Klein and Louis Vuitton.
According to Miller, Saks has conducted extensive research into the demographics and psychographics of the market, which revealed such a demand.
But while Saks perceives a demand for luxury products in Florida, tastes tend to be more conservative, which is reflected in the merchandising of the west coast stores.
“It’s not as edgy or urban or forward as Bal Harbour or Dadeland [in Miami],” Miller said.
The unit here, for instance, relies heavily on Real Clothes, the casual private label. Much of the apparel in the store is brightly colored, as Floridians prefer.
“We’re going to do a lot of watching and waiting,” said Eugenia Ulasewicz, senior vice president, director of Saks in the Southeast. “We’ll change the mix if we have to.”
The designer area of the unit here seems limited, though there is an ample selection of Escada, Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni, Ralph Lauren and Sonia Rykiel.
The extensive bridge sportswear lineup includes DKNY, Ellen Tracy, Tse Cashmere and Isaac Mizrahi. A lot of the selection, including career sportswear where Dana Buchman and Emanuel are featured, consists of prints and solids, all in jewel tones.
Ulasewicz reported that the company expects eveningwear to be a big seller in Sarasota because over 150 black-tie events are held annually in the area. At the moment, St. John is the biggest evening resource. Depending on customer response, trendier eveningwear designers such as Vera Wang and Badgley Mischka could be added, she noted.
The company also is banking on women’s designer shoes to go over big. “Previously, there has not been anywhere else in town to buy Gucci, Calvin Klein or JP Tod,” said a Saks saleswoman.
“Although the store is small, our merchandise is specifically chosen for this community, these customers and their lifestyle,” said Iris Starr, general manager of the Saks here.