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Saks Fifth Avenue Is Getting The Bizarro Sears Treatment

The Canal Place mall in New Orleans

The owner of luxury fashion retailer Saks Fifth Avenue is following a similar playbook to Sears — one that coincided with the latter's long decline, and ultimately to bankruptcy.

Hudson's Bay Co., parent company of Saks, the lower-price concept Saks Off Fifth and its namesake Canadian store chain, has spun off the e-commerce businesses of both Saks brands this year, Retail Dive reports. HBC retained sole ownership of the brick-and-mortar businesses of both and their associated real estate. Private equity firm Insight Partners has taken minority positions in both new companies.

SFA, the entity that operates Saks Fifth Avenue locations, shares branding with Saks, the newly formed e-commerce company, in an arrangement similar to a franchise agreement, Retail Dive reports. Saks Off Fifth will be similarly split between the e-commerce company that will retain ownership of the brand and O5, the HBC subsidiary running the brick-and-mortar stores.

Insight Partners paid $500M for its share of Saks and spearheaded a collective investment of $200M for Saks Off Fifth from a group of firms that includes Rhône Group, which also holds a minority stake in HBC, Retail Dive reports.

Divesting from e-commerce seemingly runs counter to the strategy that many legacy brands have employed to maintain relevance. As online-first brands establish bigger physical presences and department stores like Nordstrom and Macy's invest in their online presences, omnichannel has emerged as a popular way forward. HBC Executive Chairman Richard Baker has said he doesn't expect Saks or Saks Off Fifth's customer experiences to be disrupted by the splits.


Baker, who was a real estate mogul before buying HBC, described the spinoffs as a way to monetize the company's assets, Retail Dive reports. Eddie Lampert used similar reasoning in creating Seritage Growth Properties out of the real estate assets of Sears and Kmart, which only had the effect of keeping Seritage prospering while Sears Holdings slumped into bankruptcy.

Sears shareholders accused Lampert, who chaired both Seritage and Sears, of stripping the department store brand for parts to enrich himself. Columbia University Graduate School of Business Director of Retail Studies Mark Cohen alleged the same about Baker in an interview with Retail Dive.

"Here's a guy who has no retail chops, who is a deal-maker, who just keeps the pot boiling, intent on basically lining his own pockets," Cohen told Retail Dive. "This is a thinly veiled strategy to strip the assets of HBC, specifically Saks." 

Where HBC and Sears' trajectories differ is that the original company is the one left with the real estate assets — perhaps unsurprising, considering Baker's background. After taking HBC private in early 2020, he created a real estate-specific arm of the company in October called HBC Properties and Investments, no doubt hoping that by holding the real estate, HBC can perform more like Seritage and less like Sears Holdings.