Kohl's operates family-oriented, specialty department stores in the US selling moderately priced casual apparel, footwear, accessories and home products targeted to middle-income customers. Central to the company's strategy is a culture focused on maintaining a low cost structure. Critical elements of this include an open-plan store format, lean staffing levels and operating efficiencies resulting from centralised buying, advertising and distribution. As a result, Kohl's has expanded, in the space of just a few years, from a regional chain in the Midwest to a national force competing with traditional department stores such as JC Penney and Sears and more stylish mass-merchandisers like Target. By early 2022 there were 1,165 stores located across 49 US states, mostly in strip malls. It has established a strong following among fashion-conscious teenage and young adult women over the years as a result of a series of astute marketing partnerships with celebrity partners including Avril Lavigne, Jennifer Lopez and Daisy Fuentes. Key private label brands include Apt 9, Croft & Barrow and Jumping Beans but the biggest is Sonoma, which covers a variety of apparel and home furnishing segments and generates revenues in excess of $1bn annually. There are also exclusive deals with footwear brand Candie's, designer Vera Wang for sportswear, with cable TV's Food Network for branded kitchenware, and with Elle magazine for branded apparel, home furnishings, and even jewellery and cosmetics. There are a small number of dedicated outlets specialising in Fila sportswear. In an unlikely partnership, it forged a partnership in 2019 with Amazon to allow the latter's customers to return unwanted orders for free via their local Kohl's store. Kohl's reported revenues of just under $20.0bn in 2019 with net profit of $691m. However, Covid-related closures impacted heavily on performance in 2020, with revenues falling to $16.0bn. However, the following year saw a recovery, with a rebound in revenues to $18.5bn and net income of $938m (after a net loss in 2020 of $163m). Former Starbucks executive Michelle Gass became CEO in 2017.
Capsule checked 21st May 2021
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Historical profile information for Kohl's
Adbrands Update 4th Jul 2022: Takeover talks between Kohl's and FRG Franchise Group ended without agreement. Much smaller FRG had hoped to raise funding for the deal by selling parts of its retail estate and by raising debt, but the current economic climate and threat of further rises in interest rates made such a strategy unviable. Kohl's said it would no longer pursue a sale of the business, and will continue with its current business plan, which includes a rollout of Sephora beauty outlets in most of its 1,100 stores. "While there was criticism from activists, the vast majority of shareholders are supportive of the direction management is taking the company," said chairman Peter Boneparth.
Adbrands Update 7th Jun 2022: Kohl's entered exclusive talks to be acquired by the retail holding company FRG Franchise Group, which owns a number of different US chains including The Vitamin Shoppe and Pet Supplies Plus. FRG's offer values Kohl's at around $8bn, or $60 per share. A rival offer from private equity fund Sycamore was said to be worth around $55 per share. Both parties said there was no certainty that a deal would be concluded.
Marketer Moves 19th May 2022: Chief marketing officer and chief merchandising officer leave Kohl's. See Marketer Moves (members only).
Adbrands Update 24th Jan 2022: A consortium led by activist investor Starboard Value is reported to have offered to acquire US department store chain Kohl's for around $9bn, a premium of a little over a third above the company's pre-bid market value. A rival fund, Sycamore Partners, is also circling the retailer, which has been under pressure for some time to boost its share price, which until now had been languishing at around the same level as in the early 2000s. Investors have for some time been urging the chain to consider a sale and lease-back of part of its retail estate.
Adbrands Weekly Update 18th Jan 2018: Department store Kohl's is the latest US retailer to move into the grocery business, but is following quite a different approach from bigger rivals like Walmart and Target. Rather than develop its own food business it plans to carve out an area from selected existing stores, and is seeking a partner to run that space as a dedicated grocery and convenience outlet with its own separate entrance. Kohl's already has a partnership with Amazon to sell the ecommerce giant's own-label products through its stores and process returns, encouraging speculation that the two groups might widen their relationship to include Amazon's newly acquired Whole Foods Market division as Kohl's grocery partner.
Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Sep 2017: US department store Kohl's named marketing chief Michelle Gass as its next CEO. She will take over from current leader Kevin Mansell when he retires in May next year. COO Sona Chawla will move up to the role of president. Gass joined Kohl's in 2013 after 17 years at Starbucks.
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