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  • Andrea Lillo

Kohl's rocks into California

Kohl's shook up the assortment for its 28-store California debut last week. Overall, nearly one-third of the merchandise is unique to the West Coast operation, and the ratio of targeted product runs even higher in some home categories.

Home textiles changed significantly, although the footprint and location remain the same as in other Kohl's stores, president Kevin Mansell told HTT during a store tour here last week. For example 30 percent to 40 percent of top-of-bed differs from the company's core assortment, he said.

The assortment of down and quilts has been expanded, with product tailored in styles better suited to Southern California. Down products differ in fill, pattern and lighter weights, and quilts offer more prints, he said. He added that consumers in the market use down year-round and often forego blankets, which in the stores here skew more heavily toward cotton than wool. Rug designs reflect a more Southwestern feel, Mansell added.

In bath, the company stocked jacquards and solids not found elsewhere in the chain, Mansell said, including new Micro-Touch and Pima cotton programs. "There's more appetite for that here," he said, adding that customers prefer fashion over basics.

The assortments were stroked on the basis of lifestyle, climate and the unique demographics — all researched by Kohl's market solutions team, one of the three arms of the merchandising group, which includes store planning and buying. In existence for several years, the market solutions people are assigned by product category, including linens. The entry into Texas last year, he added, already provided a lot of knowledge about how to approach new demographics such as Hispanics.

"We approached this market like any other market," he said. "If we were to become a national company — and because we are centralized — we have to address tailoring stores to individual markets."

The 28 new stores, which held their grand openings March 7, stretch as far north as Victorville, 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles, and as far south as Temecula, 60 miles southeast. Most are concentrated in the working- and middle-class suburbs east and south of Los Angeles, with particular attention to Orange County. Hispanics and Asians, including many Vietnamese, comprise large portions of the populations in those areas.

Most of the California stores were built from the ground up, Mansell said, adding that ideal locations place Kohl's in strip centers adjacent to a Wal-Mart or Target and, for frequency of visits, a grocery store.

Kohl's began introducing itself to Southern Californians two months ago with a heavy broadcast and billboard campaign, including the largest direct-mail program in the company's history. The print campaign commenced Feb. 23, with exposure every other day, and the company began its promotions last week, including a 112-page newspaper insert. This type of campaign leverages the expenses of distribution and advertising, he said. "Twenty-eight stores allow us to do that."

Competitors, such as department stores, treat home textiles as a "lesser business," he said. "They probably don't give textiles the same opportunities to grow. Sometimes you have to look hard to find the home textiles" in those stores, he said.

For the company overall, the performers in domestics have been decorative pieces, particularly table linens, coordinated bath and decorative pillows.

Martex, added to the merchandise mix last year, has performed "very well," though it's not in the top 20 brands for the company — "but there's no reason why it can't get there. It's a question of broadening the assortment," Mansell said. Kohl's also announced last week that it will expand into new markets in California next year, including Sacramento, San Diego, and Fresno.

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