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The Turnaround Game: Kohl’s Rolls Out Apt. 9 In New Fashion Strategy

Having battled tepid or sagging financial results for the past year, Kohl’s aims to turn things around with the fall launch of private label apt. 9.

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NEW YORK — Kohl’s Corp. has numbers on the brain.

Having battled tepid or sagging financial results for the last year, the retailer aims to turn the figures around by upping its fashion quotient with the launch this fall of apt. 9, a new proprietary label with a modern twist, and a slate of other initiatives.

By virtue of Kohl’s 589 doors, each of which will have 12 to 14 fixtures devoted to apt. 9 in women’s, the September launch of the brand weighs in as one of the biggest of the season. Apt. 9 also rolls out in men’s for fall and will eventually go into accessories, footwear and home.

The retailer enjoyed darling status on Wall Street during its breathtaking expansion, growing from just 40 stores in 1986, but faltered last year with a merchandise mix that focused too much on traditional looks. This fashion misstep contributed to same-store sales declines and an inventory backup.

“One of the issues we had was not enough newness in our stores, not enough newness in our merchandise offering, in our assortments,” president Kevin Mansell said in a phone interview. “Some of our competitors did a better job of that and they were rewarded for it.”

With apt. 9, Kohl’s hopes to take back some of the business that has trickled off to the likes of J.C. Penney and Target, both of which have moved to improve their offerings. Target has generated a lot of buzz lately with its Isaac Mizrahi line, which has managed to capture a fashionable image despite its discount prices.

Kohl’s also has employed celebrity to draw more updated shoppers to its stores. The retailer is continuing to roll out the collection named after TV personality Daisy Fuentes after a limited introduction in the spring. The chain hopes these and other initiatives in women’s, such as the introduction of cosmetics by Estée Lauder Cos. for fall, will help boost financial results. Representing about 30 percent, or $3 billion, of the firm’s sales, though, women’s is only part of the picture.

“There are a lot of initiatives going on in women’s, but there’s a big store, and we’re not relying on women’s to single-handedly carry the day,” said Mansell, who sees apt. 9 as a significant opportunity in men’s as well. “I don’t want to minimize the women’s importance, because our customer is a woman — so what we do for her always has to be top-of-mind for us.”
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