After a 24-year run, Tom Ott is about to bid adieu to Saks Fifth Avenue.
In the latest restructuring at the luxury department store, Ott, senior merchant of Saks Off 5th, will be leaving the company on Aug. 30.
Ott’s position will be split between two other employees who are also longtime Saks Off 5th executives. Christine Merrick, formerly vice president and divisional merchandise manager of shoes and handbags for Off 5th, has been elevated to senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s, kids, shoes and handbags. Allison Ross, formerly vice president and dmm of women’s contemporary for Off 5th, has been named senior vice president and gmm of women’s, accessories, beauty and home.
Both will report to Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue, who oversees the Off 5th off-price chain, which operates over 100 stores in the U.S. and Canada.
“Tom has had a meaningful impact on the business in his 24-year career with the company, from his significant leadership in men’s to his more recent role at Saks Off 5th, we are grateful for his contributions,” Metrick said. “At Saks Off 5th, we continue our strategy to evolve the business to be more of a true off-price player and believe we have significant runway ahead. This new nimble structure allows us to move with the speed and agility required in the off-price segment and I feel confident in the team we have as we progress to the next stage of our strategy.”
Ott had spent 22 years at Saks when tapped to become the chief merchant of Off Fifth and Gilt in July 2017. Gilt Groupe was sold last July to Rue La La for an undisclosed amount.
Ott is a well-respected men’s merchant and has spent nearly his entire career overseeing that category of business. He had been senior vice president and gmm of men’s and concessions at Saks prior to getting the Off 5th job. While at Saks, he built a strong team in the men’s department — a team that remains to this day. That includes Louis DiGiacomo, who succeeded Ott as vice president and gmm of men’s for Saks; Sunny Diego, vice president and dmm of men’s sportswear, and Shawn Howell, vice president and dmm at the Off 5th division.
Ott also worked to discover new brands for the retailer during his frequent trips to Italy, France and Germany that helped set the store’s merchandising mix apart. He was also instrumental in the development of the stand-alone men’s stores for Saks. At one point, there were seven men’s stores around the country. Today, there are a handful, including the one at Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan. Ott is also credited with spearheading creation and growth of the company’s private label men’s brands.
Ott joined Saks in 1995 as buyer of men’s designer clothing and rose up the ranks to become vice president and dmm of men’s tailored clothing, personal furnishings, home and food, before becoming a gmm and senior vice president. He began his retailing career in 1988 as an executive trainee with Lord & Taylor.
Ott said he’s proud of the work he’s done at Off 5th over the past two years and believes the division has “huge opportunity” going forward. “The team is doing an excellent job and I look back with only the fondest of memories.”
As far as the new team is concerned, Merrick has been with Saks for 10 years in positions of increased responsibility including dmm of shoes, handbags, fashion jewelry and watches. Ross has been with the company for eight years and has served as a men’s buyer for Saks as well as a vice president and dmm of men’s and women’s shoes and handbags for Off 5th.
Saks is owned by Toronto-based Hudson’s Bay Co., which has been downsizing its retail operations. It closed the Fifth Avenue flagship for its Lord & Taylor division as well as the Saks Fifth Avenue women’s store at Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan. In February, HBC said it would close up to 20 Off 5th stores in the U.S. A number of stores have already closed and the business is now performing better, with comparable-store sales increasing 4.4 percent in the first quarter.
To escape the scrutiny of being a public company, HBC, which is led by real estate tycoon Richard Baker as executive chairman and governor, is attempting to take the publicly traded company private. Baker is part of the group of shareholders that collectively owns 57 percent of the outstanding common shares of HBC and on June 10 proposed to take HBC private at 9.45 Canadian dollars. Others in the group include Rhône Capital LLC, WeWork Property Advisors, Hanover Investments (Luxembourg) S.A. and Abrams Capital Management LP.
However, Catalyst Capital Group has come in with a bid of 10.11 Canadian dollars to buy about 19.8 million shares, which represents about 10.75 percent of the common shares and $200 million in total value.