Not even a pandemic can stop the men’s momentum at Saks Fifth Avenue.
For more than two years, the upscale retailer has been enjoying an uptick in men’s sales, thanks to strength in footwear, advanced designer and contemporary brands. From 2018 to 2019, the men’s division posted single-digit growth year-over-year, and those figures have gotten even larger today and now represent some 30 percent of the company’s overall business, according to sources.
Even while the Saks stores were closed during the height of the pandemic, men’s managed to hold its own — thanks in large part to a solid online business — and now that the fleet has reopened, men’s continues to thrive.
Louis DiGiacomo, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Saks, said since stores started reopening in May, men’s experienced high single- to double-digit growth and now that the entire fleet is up and running, the category has been posting double-digit growth.
“Similar to pre-COVID-19, footwear has been our number-one category, driven by sneakers,” he said. “It was very strong before, but it’s even stronger now.”
Designer ready-to-wear and advanced contemporary collections along with accessories have also been very strong, he said.
“Our men’s business is booming,” said Marc Metrick, president and chief executive officer. “For the past several years, men’s has been a growing category for us across all channels and we have seen a consistently positive customer response. We’re continuing to invest heavily in men’s wear, which includes evolving our in-store presence, expanding our service offerings and leveraging our clienteling capabilities to deliver a personalized and seamless shopping experience. Saks is well-positioned for big wins in men’s and we look forward to continuing the momentum.”
Tracy Margolies, chief merchant, echoed the sentiment. “Men’s is such an exciting category right now. As the men’s market has grown over the past few years, we have focused on elevating our merchandise assortments and evolving our client experience by introducing more fashion-forward designers and personalized services. Saks believes in men’s fashion, and we are committed to offering the best curated assortment for our customers.”
DiGiacomo said that prior to the pandemic, the tailored businesses, along with other more-classic categories, were weakening, and as a result, Saks pivoted to place more emphasis on the fashion-forward brands.
“We talk about how men are the new women,” he said. “They want fashion. They’re shopping weekly and buying new wardrobes for the weekend or home. Frankly, we’re shocked at how much it has grown over the past few months.”
Among the strongest brands in footwear have been Dior, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Christian Louboutin, he said. In rtw, top performers include Amiri, Off-White and John Elliott, among others.
With so many other retailers struggling or closing their doors, including Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus/Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey and others, Saks is picking up market share. DiGiacomo said that even though Saks has a deal to open Barneys shops in its stores, that hasn’t happened yet, and its former customers are turning to Saks instead in key markets such as Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago.
In order to capture those customers, Saks is remerchandising its stores to better focus on the hot areas, and upping the ante on customer service both in person and online. Associates are using Zoom calls and in-home services to better cater to shoppers who still may feel uncomfortable visiting stores. Men are also part of the Saks First Limitless invitation-only program for the retailer’s biggest spenders. During Milan Men’s Fashion Week in February 2019, Saks hosted its first dedicated men’s event offering front-row seats to Etro, Fendi and other shows, access to showrooms and a suite at the Four Seasons.
Looking ahead to fall, DiGiacomo said Saks is already seeing some good sell-throughs on new merchandise. And while there was a lag in deliveries in the midst of the pandemic when European vendors were closed and transportation interrupted, “we’re caught up now,” he said. “We’re receiving goods and selling newness.
“We’re feeling really good about fall and holiday,” he added. “We’re continuing to invest in men’s.”
Although Saks closed its Brookfield Place men’s store in lower Manhattan in January, Saks still operates men’s-only stores in Los Angeles and Chevy Chase, Md. And men’s is getting increased attention in other units as well. Last August, the New York flagship opened an 8,000-square-foot shoe floor that added 60 percent more selling space to the popular category. “That performed extremely well pre-COVID-19 and continues to perform well now,” DiGiacomo said.
The Chicago store recently expanded its men’s footprint, adding a third floor, and that expansion has also been “extremely successful,” he said. The Bal Harbour store in Florida just revamped its men’s floor, with an enhanced focus on designer rtw and advanced contemporary brands. Ten additional brands were added to the rtw assortment including Amiri, Fear of God and Comme des Garçons Play, and the footwear offering was expanded to more than 30 brands including Dior, Givenchy, Common Projects, Golden Goose and others.
And in August, a separate men’s store will open in the former Barneys location in Boston. “It’ll be two floors and nearly double what we have in men’s in Boston now,” he said.
Beyond that, DiGiacomo said that he and the men’s team are hoping to continue the momentum, shopping spring collections from home while travel still remains off-limits. And while it’s not ideal, they’re making it work.
“We miss the energy of being in Milan and Paris,” he said. “At presentations and shows, you can see the merchandise a little more clearly. But we’re still able to do market appointments virtually.”
What isn’t as easy is discovering new, artisanal brands. “Vendors are doing a good job showcasing their collections virtually, but we still want to touch and feel it, especially in ready-to-wear,” DiGiacomo said. “So there are some challenges, but it’s going well and we’re still very aggressively as a company looking for new brands and talent.”
Overall, Saks seems to be performing better than many of its peers. The company recently sent a letter to its vendors saying that business has increased over the same period last year with stores and online business posting positive comparable-store sales. Last February, Saks’ parent company, the Hudson’s Bay Co., went private so it no longer reports financial results publicly.
In the letter, Metrick said: “Men’s continues to be one of our strongest categories, especially as our customers are rethinking their wardrobes and shifting to more casual wear given the current circumstances.”
And for fall, Metrick said he is “cautiously optimistic, but energized nonetheless.”