By  on August 26, 2014

Peggy Eskenasi, senior executive vice president of product development for Kohl’s Corp., is leaving the company to join a private equity company in New York after a decade-long tenure.

The departure is the second by a senior-level merchant at the Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based midtier department store in less than five months. It follows that of Donald Brennan, chief merchandising officer, in April. Asked about the search for Brennan’s replacement during Kohl’s second-quarter conference call two weeks ago, Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said the company was making “excellent progress” and that he continued to expect a successor would be named prior to the company’s Analyst Day at the end of October.

“I don’t see anything that would preclude us from doing that at this point,” Mansell said.

Kohl’s disclosed Eskenasi’s departure, effective Sept. 12, in a Form 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. She didn’t respond to requests for comment, and the identity of her next employer isn’t known. Kohl’s said it doesn’t intend to name a successor.

Eskenasi was instrumental in building a large stable of brands that are either exclusive to Kohl’s stores or licensed to the company, including such labels as Jennifer Lopez, Simply Vera Vera Wang, Candie’s, Rock & Republic and recently, Juicy Couture. Kohl’s internally developed brands include apt. 9, Sonoma and Croft & Barrow. However, private-brand performance has lagged that of national brands in recent periods as Kohl’s has labored to regain its merchandising momentum.

Mansell noted a shift toward national brands in the conference call earlier this month.

“National-brand comps were higher than private and exclusive comps for the fourth consecutive quarter, and were positive for the first time in many quarters,” he said. “Year-to-date, national-brand penetration has increased 90 basis points to 46 percent of sales.”

In the first six months of the current fiscal year, Kohl’s net income fell 5.6 percent to $357 million while net sales dropped 2.1 percent to $8.31 billion. Comparable-store sales declined 2.3 percent on top of a 0.5 percent decline in the first half of 2013. The largest part of the comp decline came in the first quarter as second-quarter same-store sales fell 1.3 percent.

Eskenasi joined Kohl’s 10 years ago as executive vice president of product development and was promoted to her most recent title in 2010. Prior to that, she was president of private brand and product development for Saks Inc. A veteran of the now-defunct Frederick Atkins Inc. buying office, she joined Saks as senior vice president of private label and brand development in 1997.

In his last evaluation by Kohl’s compensation committee, Brennan received a performance rating of “inconsistent,” just one tick above the lowest rating of “unsatisfactory.” Because she was not a “named executive officer,” in the terminology of proxy statements, Eskenasi’s job performance wasn’t rated.

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