6 Questions with Joe Gambino, Saks Polaris GM

Jenny Rogers
Joe Gambino, general manager at Saks Polaris

While malls and department stores have been challenged with meeting the evolving desires of the modern shopper, Saks Fifth Avenue remains focused on doing what they do best: providing an imitable experience that leads to lasting retail relationships. General manager Joe Gambino, who joined the team at Polaris Fashion Place in 2014, shares what shopping at Saks is all about.

What is Saks Fifth Avenue doing to keep up with the changes in retail?

We've seen a dramatic change in shopping patterns in the past three to five years; as dotcom becomes more prevalent, people are going to make that choice. But we embrace the dotcom customer. It gives us an opportunity to continue to deepen our relationship with the customer. This is my 26th year in retail. For the first 20 years, it was pretty much the same as it always was. But now, shoppers are making more value-oriented choices. The consumer is still willing to spend when there's value and that want. And that's our job-to create that want.

What's most important to Saks?

The experience is certainly important. We have a Fifth Avenue Club with three amazing associates who are basically personal shoppers and offer great services to our clients. We'll go to your home and do a closet makeover for you, for no charge. The most important thing we work on here is building relationships with clients; it's much more than "I'd like to buy a skirt."

What differentiates Saks from other department stores?

We don't say "no" to a customer; there's no reason to, when you have the depth of assortment that we have in this building, when you have the fashion expertise. Our associates are well educated and help the customer get excited about their purchase. Because that's really what it comes down to. It's impulse, and it's value. You fall in love with something, you need to have it. That's the great thing about carrying these brands that you can't get elsewhere.

Who's the Saks shopper?

There are two camps. You have your traditional luxury shopper who understands the value in luxury. Then, we have the aspirational luxury shopper. I had a customer in here the other day that was purchasing her very first pair of Christian Louboutin shoes. Does that necessarily translate into a lifelong customer? We're certainly hoping so.

Any changes in store?

Nothing dramatic; our focus right now is on doing the basics, getting better at what we've already done. I think the next few years will really be exciting; as Columbus continues to grow, we'll grow with it.

With what should a Saks shopper leave your store?

Our customers, research has shown, are most happy when they make a purchase. That first-time customer needs to be wowed. You should leave having had a conversation that helped you learn about your style.