Jean Geiger had never been in a Kohl’s store, but she couldn’t pass up the Vera Wang fashions.
The New York designer – who created Jennifer Lopez’s wedding gown and dressed celebrities such as Sharon Stone and Mariah Carey – recently launched a discount apparel line at Kohl’s. Geiger, who lives in Hayden, made the Simply Vera collection her first stop at the new Kohl’s in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday.
Kohl’s will hold grand openings for stores in Spokane’s NorthTown Mall and Coeur d’Alene today. The retailer, based in Menomonee Falls, Wis., is expanding rapidly. Part of its success comes from a hybrid style of retailing that mixes designer apparel and the feel of a traditional department store with what analysts call “racetrack aisles,” discount pricing and speedy checkouts.
“Kohl’s cut across many boundaries. They’re similar to a JC Penney’s, but they also have elements of discount stores, such as Wal-Mart and Target,” said Richard Hastings, a senior retail analyst with Bernard Sands LLC in Charlotte, N.C. “In certain categories, they’re also competitive with Gap and Old Navy.”
The formula has worked for Kohl’s, which had sales of $15.5 billion last year. According to Hastings, “they’re taking a lot of apparel business away from Wal-Mart,” while competing against department stores. “They’re not finished shaking things up,” he predicted.
Amanda Sinclair, who used to shop at Kohl’s when she lived in Tennessee, said she’s been waiting for the company to come to North Idaho.
“I like their sales and clearance,” said Sinclair, of Coeur d’Alene. On her shopping list Tuesday morning: shoes for 1-year-old Kaitlyn, who was being pushed in a stroller by her mom, plus school clothes for Kaitlyn’s two older siblings.
According to Kohl’s research, its typical shopper is a woman, age 24 to 54, who is buying for herself or her family. Shoppers often are in a hurry, which is why store layouts are designed for quick access to departments and a fast trip through the cashier’s lane. Though half of Kohl’s customers have annual household incomes of $75,000 or greater, they’re looking for good buys, said Anne Simaytis, company spokeswoman.
But fashion is a priority as well. That’s why the company has focused on acquiring exclusive contracts with designer labels, such as Wang, Daisy Fuentes and Ralph Lauren’s Chaps, Kohl’s President Kevin Mansell recently told analysts.
Designer brands at discount prices is part of the retail formula that Kohl’s has successfully copied from Target and Kmart, which was a leader in signing on Martha Stewart, said Hastings, the retail analyst. “What it says to the shoppers is that Kohl’s has a sense of style,” he said.
The Simply Vera line of apparel, jewelry and bedding debuted at Kohl’s three weeks ago. Reuters reported that Kohl’s expects $150 million in first-year sales from the line.
Buzz about Wang has certainly helped bring in customers, said Michele Valencia, manager of the Coeur d’Alene store. Huge portraits of the designer hung in the front windows. Near the entrance, the Simply Vera apparel collection featured silky blouses in eggplant and golden hues; short, metallic skirts; and black, sheath-style dresses.
Among the most expensive pieces of clothing was a double-breasted, brocade coat for $138. Other Wang items included a $175 cocktail ring and faux leopard skin ballet flats, on sale for $42.
“I love Vera Wang. She kind of covers it all, from the young to the mature,” said Geiger, the Hayden woman who was shopping at the store on Tuesday.
But like a typical Kohl’s shopper, Geiger indicated she was looking for value-driven fashion. “She has a very classy style,” she said of Wang’s designs. “You can wear things from year to year, without someone saying, ‘That’s last year’s fad.’ “