New Saks President to Spend $1.25 Billion to Attract Young, Cool Shoppers

How Saks' new president plans to appeal to young people.
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Dhani Mau
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How Saks' new president plans to appeal to young people.
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Last fall, following its acquisition by the Canadian Hudson's Bay Company, Saks Fifth Avenue hired a new president: Marigay McKee, longtime chief merchant at London retail giant Harrods, which McKee is credited with turning into a top-performing luxury retail destination.

Now, she's working her magic on Saks. And it sounds like her revamp, expected to cost the retailer $1.25 billion, will be pretty transformative, including high-luxury items and services, new branding and attempts to bring in younger, trendier customers.

In one of her first interviews since joining Saks, McKee tells Bloomberg she wants to modernize the chain while still maintaining its elegant DNA. She says the retailer "will be focused a lot more on trend," but will "make sure we don’t alienate our existing customer,” which apparently skews older than McKee would like.

She plans to hone in on cities with large populations of college students and young professionals, but she also wants to target shoppers based on location. Stores in Boston, she indicates, shouldn't have exactly the same merchandise as stores in San Francisco.

In those youth-oriented stores, you can expect to see more emerging international designers -- a market the retailer has already been dipping its toes into. In fact, the homepage on Saks' website currently showcases its "New and Emerging Designers" category, featuring cool labels like MSGM, Ostwald Helgason, Carven and Antonio Marras. Perhaps Saks could become to up-and-coming international designers what Barneys is for buzzy new American ones. It would make sense -- McKee, who hails from London, a city known for embracing young designers, is also a member of the British Fashion Council board (or was, at least -- we're still trying to confirm), and is credited with establishing Harrods as a destination for emerging talent and innovative fashion.

In general, she also wants to add more exclusive merchandise from designers to differentiate the store from competitors.

And of course, McKee hasn't forgotten about the all-important "uber-luxury" shoppers, those people just itching to throw five figures at a crocodile handbag. She'll appeal to them with exotic skins and "couture and runway clothing." This also mimics what she did at Harrods, where she brought the retailer's highest price point higher and higher.

Inventory is not the only place where changes will be seen. McKee will also give windows, stores and packaging a makeover to be implemented late this year. "The aesthetic needs a complete revamp," she said in a separate interview with Drapers. "The transformation of the look and feel of the store and the brand are key priorities."

We're genuinely excited to see the changes take shape, and impressed with the amount of strategizing McKee, who seems to be one of the few retail execs able to successfully straddle the line between fashion and business, has gotten done since starting her new gig -- last Monday was her first day.