Steve Sadove (Saks Fifth Avenue CEO): «Our clients love the real made in Italy: in quality you're the best»

The hall of the Principe di Savoia, one of the few five-star hotels in Milan, seems a sort of "situation room" of the special forces of the fashion world. This is the feeling of Stephen Sadove, chairman and CEO of Saks, who when is in Milan, with the many celebrities of the international fashion system, stays in this luxury hotel and has fun observing the meetings, the coming and going, the kisses and hugs exchanged between buyers, designers, journalists all apparently in a great hurry. Once he leaves Milan, a city in which he seems to feel perfectly comfortable, he flies directly to New York for an analyst meeting to present the 2012 financial results. In Paris, there is his impressive team of buyers, unleashed at fashion shows and presentations to sign orders but also to scout for new ideas.

In 2011, despite the uncertainty of the U.S. economy, the department store chain continued to grow and last year was the same: turnover increased 4.4% to 3.147 billion dollars (more than 2.4 billion euros). Net profit was of 72.4 million dollars (55.5 million euros), slightly lower than the 74.8 million of the previous fiscal period due to the increase in investments. Sadove is however optimistic also because, he says, the nature of his work and the fashion world always give him fresh energy.

What do you think of the Milan fashion week?
I like this city: when I hear people say that there is a lot of traffic or that it takes too long to get from one side of town to the other and go from one fashion show location to another, I smile. Maybe because I'm from New York and the situation there certainly isn't any better. Milan always gives me some new idea and I think that its energy also helps Italy: the Country is surely undergoing a difficult moment from an economic point of view and maybe it doesn't fully understand the importance and the greatness of its fashion system.

Is it important for the Saks clientele to have on the label the Made in Italy mark?
It's fundamental. I'm not speaking of "designed in Italy", but "Made in Italy". In the fashion sector we often visit your plants and workshops and we know exactly what it means if a product is really produced in Italy; sometimes even hand-made when speaking of items for luxury brands. The end-client, which is always more informed and careful even though they never saw an artisan at work, perceives the quality and learned to associate it with the idea of Made in Italy. In shoes, both women's and men's, which for us at Saks have become a fundamental business, this value added is even more important. Everyone knows that even the big French luxury brands produce footwear in Italy. And they openly say so.

How many fashion shows and presentations do you see when you are in Milan?
I see lots of them, but more importantly I try to speak to the designers. Maybe to "sweet-talk" them into giving ups some secret on the new trends, but more importantly I'm fascinated by their creativity. For example, the other day I went to Giuseppe Zanotti and I was astonished by the new shoe collection. I often leave the showrooms of these shoe artists thinking: this is the most creative collection I've ever seen, next time they won't be able to do better. And yet, in every reason they manage to surprise me. As if the creativity of your designers were a bottomless pit, inaccessible to us "mere mortals"

How many people are they in your team of buyers?
About 50: some are very specialized, others coordinate the choices. In terms of the great designers, many of the purchases are made with the pre-collections; going to the fashion shows is useful to feel the atmosphere and to share opinions with other buyers. Then there is the scouting, which for us is fun but is also what our clients demand as when they enter a Saks store they expect the big brand names but at the same time they also want some surprises and they trust our taste in finding new brands.

In Milan and in European capitals, the clients of the fashion boutiques are mostly foreigners, in particular Russian and Asians. Is it the same for Saks?
In contrast with the luxury fashion brands, which by now have become real multinational companies, Saks is a company focused on the U.S. market, which is worth 99% of the business thanks to the over one hundred stores in 22 States. We have only five stores outside of the U.S. borders, two in Mexico and three in Dubai, in Bahrain and Kazakhstan that allow us to make the brand known to who, sooner or later, will visit our Country. In the past few years we posted a huge growth in the number of Chinese clients and we increased the number of staff members who speak Chinese. But there could be many more, the problem is the entry visas: simplifying the procedure to obtain them is one of the few things that in the U.S. both Republicans and Democrats agree on. At the moment a Chinese person needs about 100 days to have an entry visa to our Country; it's absurd. This is part of a more general problem of the rules introduced after September 11th. Since then, the amount of international tourists that the U.S. intercepts fell from 17% to 12%, causing great damage to everyone, not just for a company like Saks. We are putting a lot of pressure on the Government for things to change, let's hope something happens soon.

You have been working in mass distribution since 1975 and have been CEO of Saks since 2004. What have been the major changes in the past few years?
Certainly the different channels and the osmosis between reality and the Internet; with an outcome that is still unknown. For example a video posted on our site to prompt an increase in online purchases could instead bring people to our store. Or maybe clients can try something on in stores but then leave without buying anything to then purchase at home, after having thought it over.

What has changed in fashion?
I often hear that the arrival of fast fashion giants revolutionized the sector. This is partially true, but I think that the real change is that the sector has now learned to better use the marketing and research tools: today the sector is much more "fact-based", as we say in the U.S., compared with the past. The fascinating thing is that this does not jeopardize creativity, but on the contrary. It's not just managers, but also designers, to benefit from the information on clients and on markets that can be obtained especially thanks to the Internet. There has also been a virtuous circle that sees at the center of everything and more than before, the satisfaction of the end client.
Traduzione di Yael Schrage

TAGS: I' | Italia | Milan | Sachs | Saks Fifth Avenue CEO | Savoia | Stati Uniti d'America | Stephen Sadove | Steve Sadove