Saks Fifth Avenue president talks about luxury

In this Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, photo Saks Fifth Avenue President Marc Metrick rides the escalator inside the company’s flagship midtown Manhattan store, in New York. A company insider, the 45-year-old Metrick aims to reinvent the department store experience to bring theater to luxury shopping at a time when shoppers can buy their designer handbags online. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Saks Fifth Avenue President Marc Metrick wants to bring theater to luxury shopping at a time when shoppers can buy their designer handbags online.

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Under his leadership, Saks is in the last phase of what he calls a $250 million redevelopment of the storied Saks Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan just as luxury rivals Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom expand into the city. Metrick, who took over the helm of Saks in April 2015, aims to reinvent the department store experience. He's added a fancy Parisian restaurant import, and is dedicating the main floor to luxury handbags that's staffed with handbag style advisers in addition to the sales associates. Last year, he relocated the beauty department from the first floor to the second floor, while adding luxurious treatment rooms, new brands, and more beauty services. The remaining 40 Saks stores are getting touches that include warmer lights and lower lines of sight. Some stores' beauty areas are offering expanded treatment services. Online, shoppers can connect with style advisers in the same market.

The moves come as Saks Canadian parent Hudson's Bay Co. has floundered, but the Saks business has been a bright light, even though it shuttered its much-hyped women's store at Brookfield Place in downtown Manhattan after two and a half years. In the latest quarter ended Nov. 3, 2018, Saks Fifth Avenue enjoyed a 7.3 percent increase in sales at stores opened at least a year.

Metrick, 45, spoke with The Associated Press about competition and his outlook. Questions and responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q. How are the renovations at your flagship part of the chain's overall strategy?

A. We are calling it the new luxury. As it relates to the customer, it's everything about how they experience our store, how they experience our website, how we communicate with them. I think the New York flagship store serves two purposes. It's a beacon for everything we do at Saks on brand and our positioning in the world. It also acts as the first stop along the way for rolling out concepts for the other stores.

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Q. Did new competition spark renovation of the flagship?

A. We are always going to be spending money and investing in our flagship store. It's a very important part of our business, but the size and the scale of what we are doing was in response to competitive entry. I learned from having my Brookfield store down here. First, you can't bring a branch store to New York City. The New York City customer wants a flagship type of experience. In New York City, you cannot bring a knife to a gun fight.

Q. What's the reason for shoppers to come to Saks stores?

A. I believe luxury is theater… Friends of mine who are in banking or are doctors always say to me, why would I want to buy something in your store, when I can buy it online? And I say to them, why don't you just stream "Hamilton" on Netflix?

Q. What's your outlook?

A. I would call my mood cautiously optimistic…There's a fairly tight correlation between the Dow Jones Industrial Average and our business. I still feel pretty good. I am excited about what's ahead for us.

Q. What's been the impact of the trade wars with China on your business?

A. We are monitoring the situation, but there has been no impact to our business.

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