Joe Gambino helms The Saks Shops at Greenwich

The Connecticut native returns to his roots as the recently appointed vice president and general manager of The Saks Shops at Greenwich.

Last October, Saks Fifth Avenue announced the appointment of Joe Gambino as vice president and general manager of The Saks Shops at Greenwich.

For Gambino, this new assignment offered something familiar. A Connecticut native, he had been out of state for the previous three years, holding similar positions at Saks stores in Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio, and the return to his home state was gratifying. 

But the assignment also offered something rather different. Unlike the flagship Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and the retailer’s other stores in major cities, the Greenwich experience is smaller, more intimate and the antithesis of the one-stop-shopping approach that dominates retailing.

“Our customers in Greenwich love to shop in a boutique, intimate environment,” Gambino says. “To do that, the only way to expand was to go into four separate locations.”

In addition to the main Saks outlet on Greenwich Avenue, shoppers have three additional Saks stores within walking distance — the company’s first shoes-only store, 10022-SHOE, which opened in October; The Collective, a modern designer fashion offering that debuted in February; and The Vault, the first free-standing jewelry store within the Saks network.

In some ways, The Vault is a significant departure for Saks, which always had a jewelry component within the wider retail setting but never as the center of attention. The 6,000-square-foot Vault, Gambino says, seeks to differentiate itself by providing merchandise that cannot be found elsewhere.

“The majority of the vendors we carry are exclusive to Saks,” he adds. “Three of the vendors — Amsterdam Sauer, Anita Ko and Noor Fares — are being launched for the first time in Saks. A lot of the pieces we have over there are one-of-a-kind. When it comes to fine jewelry, people don’t want to see themselves coming and going on the avenue. They want to know they have the only piece out there.”

Gambino acknowledges that jewelry appreciation is a highly subjective matter, and he diplomatically sidesteps a potential gotcha question that seeks to separate good jewelry from great pieces.

“Jewelry is emotional,” he says. “What separates good from great is in the eye of the consumer. It’s what they want. There’s fashion jewelry; there’s more traditional gemstones; there’s edgier stuff. We have price points from $2,500 up. I wish I could say there was an average customer. It runs the gamut. It’s male; it’s female; it’s a more mature customer; it’s a more youthful customer. There is jewelry in there for everyone. And we have clients from Westchester, Fairfield County, even further up from New York state and Connecticut and customers coming up from New York City.”

Having worked in different parts of the country — prior to joining Saks, he was with Macy’s and Belk in New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia — Gambino is aware that the one-size-fits-all never truly fits when syncing a retailer to a market. And failing to have an ongoing conversation with the wider community could isolate the retailer from the area’s social and economic life.

“As a general manager, my focus is to key in on what is important to our clients and communicate that to the merchant organization and to make sure we have what that community stands for,” he says. “Our markets are so very different. Houston is a very different market from Greenwich, which is a very different market from San Francisco. We have to be unique in those places, because the sensibilities differ all over the country.”

For Greenwich, Gambino observes, the separate shops can create a potential problem with customers lugging bags back and forth across Greenwich Avenue. As a result, the Saks operation in Greenwich enables shoppers to aggregate their purchases for a free same-day delivery within an area encompassing 12 ZIP codes. (The Vault is not part of this service.) Gambino also stresses corporate social responsibility as a key element in being a good neighbor within the community. Saks has partnered with such local nonprofits as Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich United Way, the Greenwich International Film Festival and the Bruce Museum for supportive endeavors.

Of course, there is a wider community online, and Gambino is no stranger to the doom-and-gloom predictions of the internet’s potential destruction of the brick-and-mortar retailers. But he’s not buying that doomsday scenario, and instead highlights what he calls an “omnichannel approach to shopping,” where the digital world enhances traditional retailing instead of annihilating it.

“The customers changed the way they shop, and our response has to be very different than it was six months or a year ago,” he acknowledges. “It continues to evolve rapidly. We find people do a lot of research online. But ultimately, they want to come into the store. It’s no longer about getting in and out of a store quickly. It’s about, ‘Why am I in a store?’” 

And why is Gambino still in the Saks store? Well, he is one man who honestly loves his job.

“When I put my feet on the floor in the morning, I’m excited to come to work,” he says, with a big smile. “I love the teams that I’ve worked with and I love our clients. Every day is something different, and it’s an exciting time to be in retail.”

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