How Saks Came Back

Last Updated Nov 29, 2010 10:31 AM EST

Two years ago at this time, department-store chain Saks (SKS) was on a deathwatch, being featured on lists of retail brands that might not live to see 2009. The recession brought plummeting sales. But reports of Saks' death turned out to be premature -- sales and profits have rebounded, thanks to aggressive measures the company took to improve its operations.

Here's how Saks revamped its business during the downturn and positioned itself for greater success in future:

  • Build up online sales. The company saw Saks Direct sales rocket up more than 20 percent in the past year, capturing customers who were staying away from stores.
  • Don't erode margins with discounts. While others slashed prices, Saks stood firm on price straight through the dark days of 2009, preserving its branding as a luxury store. Others may have kept volume up in the recession with price cuts, but discounters now face the problem of trying to get customers back up to their old prices.
  • Hire more marketers. Saks invested in its marketing team, hiring 35 new local marketing managers to target specific groups of customers. They also created individual marketing plans for each Saks store.
  • Change the mix. Saks went farther in the direction of exclusive product to build its reputation as a destination store.
  • Cut costs. Saks CEO Steve Sadove told TheStreet.com the company cut its costs by about 13 percent, removing more than $150 million in variable costs.
  • Slash inventory. Excess inventory is the bane of apparel chains, leading to sales or having to remainder goods to discounters. Saks cut inventories by 20 percent and more.
With the economy improving, Saks finds itself in an enviable position. It stayed a solid-gold brand, and now customers are back and buying again. Managers did the hard work of repositioning the chain for future success while the chips were down.

Photo via Flickr user bfishadow
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  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.