While certain department-store chains struggle to find their identities, Saks (NYSE:SKS) recently saw the light, and it's the same color and variety as the high-end, fashionable merchandise sold at its upscale namesake stores.

The Saks Fifth Avenue name operates in the upscale realm of department-store retailing, along with competitors such as Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN), Neiman Marcus, and Barney's, currently owned by Jones Apparel (NYSE:JNY). Back in the late 1990s, a firm then known as Profitt's acquired Saks and took the latter's name. The rebranding gave the parent company an added allure but did little to enhance performance at the existing midlevel regional chains, including Parisian, Boston Store, Younkers, and Bergner's, among others.

In 2005, the company decided to begin jettisoning its numerous non-Saks stores, starting with the sale of its Northern department stores to Bon-Ton Stores (NASDAQ:BONT). The moves culminated with the sale of Parisian to Southeastern-based retailer Belk last October, leaving a current 54 Saks Fifth Avenue stores, 29 Saks Off 5th outlets, saks.com, and 62 Club Libby Lu shops.

The non-core chain sales provided Saks the capital to help out shareholders through the repurchase of shares, the paying down of debt, and payment of a juicy $4 dividend. And while the financials remain messy because of related restructuring and other special charges, same-store sales trends are doing nicely. Along with the full-year earnings announcement today, management stated that full-year comps advanced a nice 4.9% while fourth-quarter and February numbers accelerated ahead by 9.9% and 24.7%, respectively.

Saks still has work to do in earning a track record for consistent, profitable growth now that it's settled on high fashion, but this has proved to be one of the better-performing segments of retailing over the past several years and has attracted private-equity interest, as witnessed by Neiman's shift to privately held status.

Just for comparison's sake, investors can keep tabs on the other concepts by observing what Bon-Ton and Belk are able to do with them. Without a crystal ball, we can't predict the outcome with certainty, but you have to commend Saks for taking decisive action.

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.