Sonoma at Kohl's

LAS VEGAS — A retailer with more than 1,110 stores doesn’t pivot overnight and it might not look as dramatic as the word might suggest.

Kohl’s Corp. chairman, chief executive officer and president Kevin Mansell has no intention of scrapping the stores. Instead, the task at hand is improving them — and doing it quickly.

“We’re not as agile as we need to be,” Mansell admitted during his keynote at the Shoptalk retail and technology conference here, which end Wednesday. “We have a lot of stores as well. I’m not going to deny that and this is the kind of hand we have to play, but it’s a pretty amazing asset at the same time. And we’re really going to drive things in that direction.”

The company needs to after coming off a not so stellar year.

Kohl’s total sales for the 12 months through Jan. 28 fell 2.7 percent from the year-ago period to $18.69 billion, with same-store sales down 2.4 percent. While the star for the year was online sales, Mansell has no intention of doing an about-face on brick-and-mortar.

Speaking in broad terms, he told the audience at Shoptalk, that the key, not surprisingly, is thinking like an omnichannel company.

The number of stores doesn’t need to shrink, but they’re likely to get smaller in square footage over time, Mansell said.

“Having more physical presence is a much better path than less,” the ceo said, adding it’s the chain’s proximity to its customers that’s a competitive advantage by offering the convenience of being nearby.

The stores the company has closed more recently it found were in markets where Kohl’s was also not doing as well online, Mansell said.

Aside from store sizes contracting, on the technology front the retailer has already been implementing digital shelf displays and radio-frequency identification tags. The company has spent about $2 billion on technology in the last three years, broken up into two buckets, Mansell said. One would be consumer-facing initiatives, such as improvements to mobile or discounting-related programs. The other is arming store employees with the tools necessary to make each door more efficient, especially as each unit acts more and more as a fulfillment hub to service online orders.

In 2013, Kohl’s opened a Silicon Valley, Calif., office, which it said at the time was to be an extension of its IT team at headquarters in Menomonee Falls, Wis., in addition to a place where new tactics for omnichannel could be explored.

In the nearly four years now that the company has had an office there, Mansell said Kohl’s has found recruitment and retention of talent to be successful in California and that the employees there are able to work directly with partner companies and see projects through to their end. He was vague in providing details beyond that about the office’s team and what they were working on specifically.

“My sense is that we learned if we can create and develop a talented team in a place where we can recruit very effectively — and certainly California is one of those places — then we’re going to be faster and smarter in using these investments we’re making to actually drive some business results,” he said.

At the end of the day, the office along with other technology initiatives are about working on projects that drive some sort of difference in the overall business and not simply reaching out to what Mansell called a “shiny ball,” or the latest buzzy technology.

For More on Kohl’s in WWD:

Kohl’s Profits and Sales Slip

The Departed: Kohl’s Cuts Two EVPs in Streamlining

Kohl’s Expert Panel to Inspire Healthy Lifestyle

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