Saks Fifth Avenue Debuts First Optical Boutique in Boca Raton and Plans for Second Optical Opening in Fall 2017


BOCA RATON, Fla.—Saks Fifth Avenue, one of the leading luxury department store companies in North America, has opened its first Saks Optical Boutique at its department store here in partnership with U.S. Vision Inc, one of the largest optical retailers in the U.S.

A second Saks Optical Boutique is planned to debut during the third quarter this year at an undisclosed Saks’ U.S. location, executives of both Saks and U.S. Vision told VMail in an exclusive interview this week. Saks operates 41 department stores in the U.S. market.

“What we’re trying to do is enhance the shopping environment for our customers,” Saks senior vice president and general merchandise manager Tom Ott told VMail on Tuesday. He said the Boca Raton store location was chosen because it’s “one of our better stores” with a strong position in the market, a loyal customer base and a very good existing business in sunwear.

“We’re constantly pushing to make our stores more exciting,” he added, noting that Saks also recently added new coffee, food service and other offerings in some stores. Ten days into the optical launch the results have been “so far, so good,” Ott said. “We’re pleased with the results and hope that it’s something that will grow for us.”

Saks is a division of Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) (TSX: HBC), which has had a long-running agreement with U.S. Vision to operate leased optical shops in some of Hudson’s Bay 90 Canadian department stores. The agreement dates to 1999, and there are currently 31 optical shops operated by U.S. Vision in Hudson’s Bay stores, according to Adam Levy, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Vision, which is a unit of Refac Optical Group. Refac, parent of Nationwide Vision Inc. operates more than 800 optical locations across the U.S. and Canada in such stores as J.C. Penney, Meijer and Sears.

“We’re happy to be associated with Saks,” Levy said in an interview this week in which he described the origins of the new partnership as a natural extension of the existing Hudson’s Bay partnership, and also acknowledged that both sides envision advantages and growth opportunities for Saks as it moves into high-end prescription eyewear.

For U.S. Vision, Susan Ludwick, a senior vice president of brands who has been involved with the Hudson’s Bay partnership, will be overseeing the Saks’ optical partnership, Levy said.

The new boutique, located off the main aisle on the second floor of the department store, is about 500 square feet and will have more than 20 designer names represented in the frames assortment, Levy said. It’s also adjacent to such designer ready-to-wear collections by Chanel, Etro and Miu Miu and will be close to Saks’ private shopping suites, the Fifth Avenue Club.

“The adjacencies to some of their brands is pretty incredible,” Levy said. “I think whenever you can be with Chanel, that’s great.”

The choice of a second-floor location is due, in part, to traffic patterns and space availability, also, Ott said. The boutique’s location on the second floor also is convenient for shoppers using an entrance that connects the department store with a second-floor parking facility, Ott noted. (Saks will continue operating a non-prescription sunglass department on the main floor of the Boca Raton store.)

The boutique will be staffed by licensed opticians and will showcase designer frames from 22 different designers, including Chanel, Etro, Tom Ford, Gucci, Chopard and Jimmy Choo, among other designers, and the Sama and Lindberg optical brands will be in the assortment. A broad range of contact lens brands will also be available.

Levy said the new optical shop has partnered with “highly skilled and recognized” local optometrists and will refer customers to these ECPs for exams for customers who don’t have a prescription in hand. “A lot of [Saks customers] have a trusted optometrist that they use already, so we’re encouraging them to bring their prescriptions when they come to shop.”

The opticians also can offer different lens packages that will be tailored to each prescription, Levy said. The lenses will be processed at the U.S. Vision lab in Glendora, NJ, with roughly a one-week turnaround time although there will be an option for next-day service.

The overall look and design of the boutique represents a collaboration between Saks and U.S. Vision merchants, Levy said. The product is set up in an “open sell” environment. “We did partner with Saks corporate and the local store team to align on the best aesthetics for this boutique,” he explained. “All the fixtures and the finishes were selected with this particular store in mind. It’s an open-concept format and it’s designed to have the customer really interact with the product.”

The in-store signage will be largely digital highlighting “the lifestyle imagery of the brands that we carry,” Levy said.

Opticians who staff the boutique have participated in special training in order to help them align with Saks’ own corporate training for employees, Levy said. “We want it to be a seamless arrangement for the customer when they come in,” he added. “So our opticians are delivering the same fantastic level of service that Saks is known for. That’s something that we think is really important.”