Kohl’s is out to build a new future, and its focusing on innovation to get there.
“Over three years we weren’t able to get any growth,” said Kevin Mansell, Kohl’s chairman, chief executive officer and president, noting that annual sales had been flat at $19 billion, while top-line and market share hadn’t budged. “We decided we were going to have to be innovative and figure out how to build a new Kohl’s for the future.”
Last October, Kohl’s developed a “greatness agenda,” a multiyear business plan built on five pillars: amazing product, incredible savings, easy experience, personalized connections and winning teams.
Mansell on Tuesday told the audience at WWD’s CEO Summit about the progress and evolution of the greatness agenda and announced some bold moves, including three new retail concepts. He also said the Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based retailer plans to increase sales to $21 billion by 2017.
Kohl’s will launch outlet stores for proprietary brands such as Fila, ranging in size from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, with about 15 units bowing in 2016. “The outlet customer is shopping for brands and value prices,” Mansell said. “There’s a couple hundred outlet malls in the U.S. and the number is growing. We can create a presence in outlet malls reaching non-core Kohl’s customers. It’s a way for us to expand the reach of our brand and create new engagement. Value is strong today. Every retailer is talking about value or lamenting the fact that it’s so important to consumers.”
A new, smaller store format with 35,000 square feet of space will give Kohl’s access to multiple trade-area types, for example, markets that can’t economically support a full-size Kohl’s, usually about 60,000 to 90,000 square feet. “There are lots of those markets in the country,” Mansell said, noting that five to 10 of the smaller stores will open next year. “At the same time, there are many trade areas in major metro markets where we have a lot of stores but aren’t serving all the consumers in the market. It could be because we can’t find a box to rent.”
The smaller stores will put a strong emphasis on the omnichannel experience. “They will increase our capacity to ship from stores and put us in [closer] proximity to customers for buy online and pick up in store,” Mansell said.
The smaller units will offer an edited version of full-size stores, with an emphasis on unique assortments. “Anything we sell will be accessible in the stores digitally,” he said.
Off-Aisle, a retail concept with 25,000 to 35,000 square feet of space, is the test phase. “It’s a way to maximize our profitability on returns,” Mansell said. “We’ll be broadening the concept of Off-Aisle to sell everything from traditional Kohl’s clearance merchandise to special buys to more traditional returns.” In addition to the pilot store in Philadelphia, two Off-Aisle units will be launched next year.
Mansell said Kohl’s is speaking more directly to customers. A proprietary credit card used by 80 percent of shoppers yielded data about the way consumers behave, buy and respond to marketing. And last October, a new loyalty program launched, informed by the data. Yes2You Rewards now has 33 million members. “We personalized how we communicate,” Mansell said. “We recognize you when you come into the store, regardless of whether you started your shopping on a mobile device.”
Mansell said women don’t necessarily consider Kohl’s as a destination for apparel, although they buy children’s apparel, home furnishings or athletic wear. A series of merchandising initiatives is trying to change that perception, including maximizing the women’s activewear business, doubling down on key items and core essentials in women’s wardrobes and targeting the plus-size businesses, in which Kohl’s holds a large share of the market.
Improving the women’s apparel business is not a question of offering more national brands or more private labels, Mansell said. “It’s creating more relevant merchandise for her in areas where she gives us permission to succeed and creating greater clarity around the brands,” he said. About 50 percent of apparel brands at Kohl’s are proprietary, but the percentage is much higher in women’s. “It’s creating clarity between Jennifer Lopez, Apt. 9, Sonoma, Vera Wang and Lauren Conrad,” Mansell said. “Activewear is dominated by national brands.
“Kohl’s has always been a destination for great value, but we aren’t getting full credit for the value we offer,” Mansell said. “Kohl’s spends billions of dollars to give great value to customers. We’re still going to spend billions of dollars, but we’re going to do it differently. We analyzed multiple years of Kohl’s data and conducted extensive consumer research. We’re now positioned to use data-driven insights to make our value leadership more apparent to customers. The core strategy is insight-driven pricing. We’ll focus intensely on the categories and items that create the greatest impact on value perception and reclaim our spot as the value leader.”
Kohl’s is also reassessing its marketing and advertising strategies. “At a high level, we’re spending more on digital and less on print,” Mansell said. “We’re talking about layers way beneath that and the way we spend on media and optimization. We’re targeting print more tightly to the digital media interface, to get down to the unique consumer. Moving from a broad-based communication and engagement platform and thick inserts in the newspaper to a very insight-driven engagement across multiple platforms is a big move for us, a massive move. It has the possibility of really lifting revenue.”
A new Kohl’s app introduced in October 2015, has been downloaded 10 million times.
Growing women’s apparel is tied to assortments by store and personalization and tied tightly to the insight-driven pricing strategy. “They’re all tied together and get activated by each other,” Mansell said.
Two service-oriented goals in the greatness agenda include being in the 90th percentile for associate engagement and best-in-class for customer engagement. Mansell said Kohl’s developed new competencies and capabilities for talent within the company and invested in developing associates and attracting key leaders. About 25 percent of the corporate roles in the company didn’t exist three years ago, he said.
“We’re laser focused on having the most engaged associates in the industry,” he said. “In the first year, we’ve already achieved engagement scores in the 90th percentile for three of our four business areas and we’ve seen significant increases in all categories throughout the company.”
With double-digit year-to-date growth and significant market share gain in the active and wellness business, Mansell said the greatness agenda is working. “Since announcing this strategy a year ago, we’ve changed the trajectory of our performance trend line from negative to positive,” he said. “The key business initiatives outlined in the greatness agenda have delivered, or in most cases over delivered, to our plan.”