Kohl’s hopes to duplicate the success of its Chaps home brand by expanding its other exclusive apparel lines into the category, Kevin Mansell, the new president and chief executive officer of Kohl’s, told HFN.
That strategy, along with highlighting value fare, should help improve home, currently the toughest business at the chain, Mansell said.
Kohl’s named Mansell, a 26-year veteran of the retailer who has served as president since 1999, president and CEO late last month.
Mansell succeeds Larry Montgomery, who will remain chairman of the board and will hold full-time management responsibilities over a number of areas.
“I do think we have had more success at launching, building and leveraging some of the new exclusives in apparel and accessories than we’ve had in home,” Mansell said.
Chaps expanded from women’s and men’s apparel into soft home last May, and has been “a phenomenal success,” he said.
The idea now is to take “more of the brands that are successful in apparel and accessories” and extend them into home.
Although Mansell declined to say which brands he has in mind, Kohl’s counts Elle, Candie’s—already in soft home—and Columbia among its apparel and accessories programs.
Exclusive brands account for 42 percent of the retailer’s mix. “But it’s safe to say that we’re not nearly as highly penetrated in home,” Mansell said. “That’s an opportunity of growth for us.”
Right now, “hard home is outperforming soft home,” he said. That’s largely been driven by the exclusive Food Network kitchenware collection, which recently extended to include a line from celebrity chef Bobby Flay. The program has exceeded expectations, Mansell said.
Overall, Mansell blamed Kohl’s poorly performing home business largely on the macroeconomic picture and the housing malaise.
“Home is soft everywhere,” he said.
Emphasizing value in the home mix is yet another path to home’s improvement, Mansell said.
“We have the benefit of overall improved merchandise margins as a company,” he said. “We’ll use that benefit to try to drive more value. That [home] customer will respond to value in core sheet sets, towels,” he said, particularly in this economy. “Value means a lot, and can definitely lift demand.”
Beyond home, Mansell’s key priorities in his new role are the same as the company’s four key initiatives of the past five years: Improving and differentiating Kohl’s merchandise content from the competition with national exclusive brands; investing in technology to make the supply chain “shorter and shorter”; tying the merchandising to marketing; and improving customer service in stores, he said.
While other merchants are cutting corners in these tough times, Kohl’s is ramping up remodels and in-store service, he said.
The retailer will remodel 60 stores in 2009, up from 36 in 2008.
“In a tough environment … it’s time for us to aggressively improve the [store] base,” Mansell said.