Interview: ABG CEO Jamie Salter on the Future of Barneys, Union With Saks & More

Authentic Brands Group is now the owner of Barneys New York.

The brand management firm announced today that it had closed the deal to purchase the luxury department store’s intellectual property — nearly three months after Barneys had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

As part of the transaction, ABG said it would transform Barneys’ nearly-century-old flagship location on New York City’s Madison Avenue into a pop-up retail store as well as join forces with Saks Fifth Avenue, where Barneys will live on the fifth floor of its newly renovated flagship in New York City.

As questions remain regarding the fate of the iconic retailer, FN sits down for a conversation with ABG founder, chairman and CEO Jamie Salter.

FN: All of us are curious to know about the future of Barneys — especially after the liquidation bid originally proposed the closings of all seven existing stores, including the Manhattan outpost on 660 Madison Avenue.

Salter: “Maybe initially I wasn’t going to keep [the] Madison Avenue [flagship], but I think that the consumers want us to figure something out there. We’re listening to the consumers, and we are going to try a new concept. We hope it’s going to be successful. ABG is a company that is made up of a lot of young entrepreneurs that are incredibly smart. I can say that maybe three months ago, we wouldn’t have done that, [but] I appreciate what consumers are saying.”

FN: What are the next steps at Madison Avenue?

Salter: “Barneys is running a sale with B. Riley until the end of February. The Madison Avenue location will shut down at the end of the sale for a couple of weeks. We will retrofit it and [launch] a new concept of shop-in-shops that are more experiential and have a smaller footprint. Right now, we’re committed to about 100,000 square feet to start with.”

FN: In its statement, ABG said it would transform the Madison Avenue location into a pop-up retail store — housing boutiques, art installations and cultural exhibits as well as entertainment. What does this entail?

Salter: “We’re going to be testing a bunch of concepts for the next 12 months. If things go really well, we’ll take those concepts and use them around the globe. If we can make enough money driving traffic through that location with our pop-up stores and experiential [offerings], then we may take the space for longer than 12 months.”

FN: Let’s talk about the partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue.

Salter: “Barneys New York will be moving to a new 50,000-square-foot boutique inside Saks on the fifth floor. You’re going to see apparel, footwear and accessories — similar products to what’s in Barneys today. There will clearly be a big overlap. E-commerce will also go on transition sales, and Barneys.com and BarneysWarehouse.com will be moved over to and operated by Saks.”

FN: A major part of the conversation was centered around retaining jobs. What happens to current employees at Barneys?

Salter: “We’ve been reaching out to some of [Barneys’] employees and seeing if they’re interested in a position at either one of our companies. What I can tell you is that that there will be, over the next 12 months, more floor space at Barneys on a global basis. It may not be the same employees working there today, but we’ll be employing a lot of people to run Barneys New York at Saks around the United States and Canada and obviously internationally.”

FN: Where are the international markets ABG plans to expand?

Salter: “We very much look forward to expanding into Russia, Korea, China, the Middle East, the U.K., Germany and Mexico. We’ll be around the globe.”

FN: Can you give more insight into the proceedings and today’s outcome?

Salter: “[It’s] super exciting. It’s been a grind, but I will tell you Sam [Ben-Avraham] is an incredible person. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Sam. I’m hoping that I have an opportunity to work with him [in the future]. He’s incredibly passionate and incredibly smart. I’m happy we won, but I’m sad that he lost because he’s a good guy. I will reach out to him and see if there’s a role for him to work with us because I think he’s incredibly passionate and I like him.”

Want more?

Will the Union of Barneys and Saks Help Refuel the Department Store Sector?

How ABG Went from Startup to $10B Powerhouse

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