NEW YORK — Don't let the global economy fool you: Luxury is hardly dead.
Saks Inc. agreed to sell itself to Hudson's Bay Co., the Canadian parent of upscale retailer Lord & Taylor, for about $2.4 billion in a deal that will bring luxury to more North American locales.
The acquisition combines three department-store brands — Hudson's Bay, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue— and creates a North American upscale retailing behemoth with 320 stores in some of the biggest and most populous cities in the U.S. and Canada.
Lord & Taylor and Hudson's Bay, Canadian's biggest department store chain, both cater to well-heeled shoppers who can afford $98 Free People blouses and $250 Coach handbags but aspire to buy more luxury brands that they can't necessarily afford yet. Saks customers, on the other hand, are more affluent and can shell out $800 for Christian Louboutin heels or a couple of thousand dollars for Gucci handbags.
During a conference call with investors on Monday, Hudson's Bay Chairman and CEO Richard Baker, said that the goal is to bring up to seven Saks Fifth Avenue stores and 25 Off Fifth outlet stores to Canada, while creating a Saks website targeted to Canadians. Hudson's Bay also plans to renovate Saks stores and to make the brand more "luxurious."
"With the addition of Saks, (Hudson's Bay) will offer consumers an unprecedented range of retailing categories and shopping experiences," Baker said.
Hudson's Bay is making a play for luxury at a time when shoppers still appear to be willing to shell out money for posh handbags and expensive sports cars despite global economic challenges. It's expected that global luxury sales rose 10 percent to $281.96 billion last year, according to the latest study from Bain & Co. In North American, it's expected that luxury sales were up 12 percent to $81.33 billion.
Still, Saks has lagged behind its peers in the luxury sector. It's been trying to keep up with its rivals Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, which have performed well post-recession.
After getting battered by the Great Recession, Saks discounted heavily to bring shoppers back. That move hurt the chain's image, which is higher-brow.
Saks since has returned to selling clothes and other merchandise at full price and focused on closing unprofitable stores. But its sales haven't rebounded quickly to the level before the U.S. financial meltdown in 2008.
In the latest fiscal year, Saks reported annual revenue of $3.15 billion, up more than 4 percent from the previous year but still below the $3.28 billion in the year ended in January 2008. Saks' net income fell nearly 16 percent to $62.8 million in the latest year.
Belus Capital Markets analyst Brian Sozzi said that Saks shopping experience still isn't as inviting as that of Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. For example, Nordstrom has been doing things like allowing shoppers to checkout in fitting rooms using sales associates' hand-held gadgets. And Neiman Marcus, which didn't suffer during the Great Recession, has a long-held reputation for coddling its affluent shoppers through its loyal programs
"There has been a lot of promise in terms of potential but Saks hasn't lived up to the hype," Sozzi said.
Still, Hudson's Bay sees promise in Saks. After all, the acquisition will marry two storied retailers.
Founded in 1924 by Horace Saks and Bernard Gimbel, Saks' flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City is a landmark of retailing and sits on some of the most valuable real estate in the world. The company employs about 15,000 people across 41 stores.
Hudson's Bay, meanwhile, was founded in 1670 as a trading firm for furs and other goods. It is considered the oldest company in operation in North America. There are about 90 Hudson's Bay location in Canada
"We are excited about what this opportunity and being part of a much larger enterprise can mean for the future of the Saks Fifth Avenue brand," Saks Chairman and CEO Steve Sadove said in a statement.
News of the deal comes a little over a month after reports first surfaced that Hudson's Bay was interested in buying Saks Inc.
Hudson's Bay will pay $16 per share for Saks, a 5 percent premium over the company's Friday closing price of $15.31.
Saks' stock jumped nearly 4 percent, or 56 cents to $15.88 in Monday trading. Shares are up 46 percent for the year to date.
The companies put the deal's total value at about $2.9 billion including debt. FactSet says the New York-based retailer has about 150.2 million outstanding shares.
Saks will continue to run as a separate company under Hudson's Bay and will have its own merchandising, marketing and store operations employees. Key management personnel are expected to remain with the company. But it wasn't clear whether Sadove would be staying on.
In an email statement to The Associated Press, Saks spokeswoman Julia Bentley said "specific decisions about management and the organizational structure have not been made at this time." Sadove wasn't available for an interview.
Saks will have a 40-day period in which to seek out alternative third-party bids.
The buyout, which was approved by both companies' boards, is targeted to close before year's end. It still needs approval from Saks' shareholders.
Hudson's Bay said that it will look at strategic options for the combined property portfolio, which could include establishing a real estate investment trust.
Hudson's Bay said it aims to save $100 million in operating costs in the first three years by combining distribution centers and other back-office facilities of Hudson's Bay and Saks Fifth Avenue.