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Retail’s Next Century | Interview with Scott Sacco

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Many department stores take years to revamp their brand identity and store concepts but for Century 21, it seems to have happened overnight! Recently, Century 21 opened a curated concept store in New York City called Next Century. It hosts special designer collaborations as well as exclusive events and partnerships. It is a departure from the past Century 21 model, with the store encompassing a light and fresh look and feel. One of the minds behind this new brand store concept is Scott Sacco, Vice President of Merchandise Presentation at Century 21. He delves into not only the appeal of working for a brand like Century 21 but why it was so important for the brand to make this change and how it was even possible to do!

Tell us about your start in the retail world and how you came to work at Century 21?

“I started my retail career while I was still in high school as a night part time associate in the bakery at a store called Bamberger’s. I enjoyed it so much that I stayed for the next 27 years.  I had many different positions in management, merchandising, and planning and always enjoyed the ability to create an environment, a real WOW-factor for the customer.  The satisfaction of walking away from a project and saying, ‘Look what we created’ was not only rewarding, it was a team effort.

It was kind of interesting how I ended up at Century 21.  I was at a point in my career where I was looking for a new challenge. A former supervisor had recently started at Century, so I reached out to him on a whim and asked him to make me the VP of merchandising for the company.  We connected briefly via phone and two weeks later he called me back offering me the Director of Merchandise presentation.  Needless to say, I took it.”

Why Century 21? What drew you to the brand?

“The company is a family owned & run business – the more I learned about Century 21, the more I loved it. The owners are all very involved, true gentleman! They have a strong desire to offer value in an environment that sets us apart from the typical Off-Price retailer. It was a no-brainer for me and it’s been an adventure ever since.”

 

What is your biggest achievement to date?

“There have been so many!  Every day I am pushed outside my comfort zone to come up with something new and exciting.  Our new stores are by far my favorite achievements.  Taking a blank slate and turning them into dynamic, fun to shop stores with amazing values is so fun.  Working with the teams on the development and execution is so much fun!”

 

What does your day to day look like on a regular basis?

“Usually non-stop… A lot of meetings, a lot of ideas thrown around, a lot of white boards.  Developing a new merchandise standard, testing a new store concept or designing a full-blown store.  I often jump from project to project.  Sometimes I even forget which I am talking about…”

 

"Every day I am pushed outside my comfort zone to come up with something new and exciting."

In regard to the store experience, what can make or break a store environment and customer experience?

“Clean and neat.  I have never walked into a messy, difficult to shop store and left with a feeling of great service.  Century 21 was always challenged in that regards.  ‘Back in the Day’ the stores were cluttered and difficult to shop.  Today we have reinvented the stores and made them much easier to shop.  Off-price does not have to be a mess.  The customer can have both!”

 

What prompted the change of the new store design & VM aesthetic at Century 21?

“We are always challenging our thinking and trying new ideas.  We wanted to develop a more experiential shopping environment where we can offer exciting designers and brands, at exceptional savings, in a fresh space.  Nothing was off the table.  We have a DJ and radio station, we offer matcha and we use the venue to house special events.  It’s an exciting space.”

 

How do you feel VM & store design differs from a department store vs a stand-alone store?

“I think the department store model has gotten too complicated, especially regular full line department stores.  Often cluttered with signage.  It’s hard to tell exactly what is going on.  In our new space, we eliminated all the clutter and made it simple.  We created a space where the merchandise can speak for itself.”

Being an expert in creating spatial experiences, how does this translate into your personal design aesthetic?

“I have become favorable to a clean palette and simple design; the flow is important. It’s important to me to envision how the merchandise will look in this space.”

 

What advice would you give to our readers interested in pursuing a career in VM and retail design?

“GO FOR IT!!  It is so much fun, so dynamic & you meet so many people!  It has been so rewarding to me every step of the way.  If you like to take nothing and make it something… this is for you!”

 

What are some new projects we can look forward to in the future?

“We are working on developing some new stores and new store concepts.  We are working on getting feedback from market research and using it to deliver even better experiences in our stores for our customers.  We want to break from the traditional, so you never know what’s next!”