The coronavirus pandemic has made shopping more calculated. Browsing may not be as high of a priority. Buying the item or items is. And yet we still want the store experience that you can’t find online. More than 70 percent of business is done inside Saks Fifth Avenue stores, says Dennis Flaig, general manager at the Saks location at the Gardens on El Paseo in Palm Desert. An anchor to a unique collection of luxury stores in one outdoor garden setting, Saks has deep desert roots reaching back to the 1950s when the store was located in Palm Springs.
“I’ve worked in other retail locations and bigger cities,” says Flaig, “and the store kind of doesn’t necessarily get lost, but it tends to just kind of blend in with everything and it’s just another department store. But the great thing about Saks Fifth Avenue here is that we’re a part of this community. We are so involved in charities and lots of local organizations, and it feels more like a family here in the community rather than just a retail store.”
While recent steps have been taken by California to flatten the curve of the recent spike in coronavirus cases such as closing shopping malls, the Gardens on El Paseo is open with over 50 stores ranging from clothing, home decor, and elegant takeout and pickup eating options. Like all of the stores at the Gardens, Saks has taken measures to ensure a safe shopping experience from training its 115 employees to elevated cleaning standards.
Flaig chatted with Palm Springs Life on how Saks and the Gardens on El Paseo continue to meet customer needs even under these trying circumstances.
What precautions do you have in place at Saks to ease customers who are anxious about shopping in a store?
So the first thing we started off with is our own employees. They had a full day of training on cleanliness and also just taking care of themselves. We do temperature checks for them as they come in. And then each of us also fills out a daily health evaluation form every single day. Throughout the store, we have cleanings going on all day at every entrance. We have hand sanitizer stations throughout high touch points in the entire store. In our cosmetic area, we do deep cleanings every two hours. In shoes we’ve actually had to do a lot of social-distancing practices with signage and also retraining our teams on how to sell footwear to clients. And then in our other areas of the store, when items are tried on they do go into a quarantined area for 48 hours and then they are sanitized and re-brought out to the floor. So there’s quite a bit of stuff that goes on in here, but now that we’ve been open for a little bit more than a month we’ve been able to get that really dialed down. And the feedback from clients has been incredible.
What are your customers looking for in the way of products at this time of the year?
In the summertime it’s a little bit more impulse buying. A lot of designer shoes. Cosmetics. Especially when they come here because it’s so hot and dry and they will shop for face products and similar items. And then we actually sell quite a bit of jewelry in the summertime here, as well as our clients that we work with, we still continue to have a strong jewelry business.
Do you notice when people come into your store, they are drawn by the setting at the Gardens on El Paseo?
I would definitely think so. I think when tourists come here they know El Paseo and they know what’s here.
When they’re walking up and down they definitely are excited to see a Saks Fifth Avenue here. I don’t think they expect that sometimes. There’s only 40 Saks Fifth Avenue stores in the entire country, so to have one right here in the desert is a big plus for a tourist. And it’s a big win for us too, because they don’t always know that we’re here.
What are maybe some of the advantages that you offer shoppers?
Because we do have our Saks First Rewards credit cards, that’s all they use in our store and it’s such a great initiative to shop here. We would call it our VIP program here, and customers receive points, gift cards, and bigger discounts on certain things. And then also the staff that we have here, we have people from all over the country who have worked everywhere, whether it’s New York or San Francisco or in Europe. They bring such a wealth of knowledge, not just with fashion, but with giving that world-class, old-school service that we’re known for and clients love that. So they get good one-on-one attention from some amazing sales people in this building.
People like that personal touch.
And at the price points of our items and designer items, clients still want to come in and get that feel of luxury and try things on and get that experience in the store. It’s a little more difficult to buy some of the luxury items that we sell online.
It sounds like a combination of small-town appeal in a big store.
Yes, and that’s the great thing about Saks. Anything in the world that clients need product-wise, we have an avenue of getting that for them. No matter the vendor, even if we don’t carry it in the store, we have the Saks name behind us that allows us to open up and virtually sell a little bit different than a store that may just focus on one particular brand.