Today, Buffalo Niagara shoppers are getting a peek at the first major discount chain to open here since Target debuted in 1996.
Kohl's Department Stores is having "soft openings" for its three locations at:
3115 Niagara Falls Blvd., north of East Robinson Road, Amherst.
4835 Transit Road, south of William Street, Town of Lancaster.
3430 Amelia Drive, in the Quaker Crossing Shopping Center, Town of Orchard Park.
In the coming week, Kohl's will send mailings for $10 off a purchase and advertise other perks to draw shoppers to the grand openings Thursday.
For those who have never shopped Kohl's, it's first and foremost a clothing store. More than 75 percent of the 88,000 square feet is devoted to fashion. Kohl's chooses lower-rent locations away from malls, so it can usually sell name brand clothing for less than department stores. Kohl's also carries cosmetics, linens and housewares.
The 150 employees who work at each store have spent the last eight weeks unloading about 25 tractor trailers of merchandise that contained more than 460,000 items of clothing, according to published reports. Kohl's declined to talk in detail about preparing the stores for opening.
It's a calm and orderly scene inside the stores. No one even works late. After all, Kohl's has opened stores 652 times in 40 states. The chain is opening 17 stores Thursday and a total of 95 this year.
"It's a pretty methodical process," said Katie Boscoe, regional manager.
While the "soft opening" will give employees hands-on training, they also took turns sitting in front of computers by the linens department. One employee learned how to fill out a form for mismatched shoes. The other learned how to check if a diamond was authentic.
Kohl's, based in Menomonee Falls, Wis., was the 32nd largest retailer in the U.S. with about $10 billion in sales in 2003. It was the darling of the retail world as its same-store sales, a key retail indicator, grew an average of 7.4 percent from 1998 to 2002 while competitors had nearly flat comparable sales.
However, Kohl's earnings fell in 2003 for the first time since the retailer went public in 1992. Kohl's suffered a dismal 2003 holiday season and had 28 percent more winter merchandise left than the previous year, Kohl's Chairman Larry Montgomery told investors in a May 2003 conference call. The deep discounting that followed ate away at profits.
Analysts also felt Kohl's missed some important fashion trends in 2003 such as dressier clothing for men. And Kohl's didn't stock enough new colors and women's careerwear.
At the same time, competitors such as J.C. Penney and Sears copied Kohl's past success. They widened aisles and installed centralized checkouts. They also redesigned stores using Kohl's "racetrack" format of a wide, central aisle running around the store.
Kohl's stock fell to a 52-week low of $39.59 in April after hitting an all-time high of $77.75 in May 2002.
Kohl's fought back by rolling out Daisy Fuentes apparel, apt. 9 sportswear (a private label) and a cosmetics line designed by Estee Lauder in the third quarter. More recently, Kohl's added Chaps apparel and Royal Velvet bath items. Later this year, Kohl's will add the Candie's brand for juniors, girls and accessories.
Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee projects Kohl's will grow 16 percent this year to $13.5 billion in sales.
Kohl's stock was down 66 cents to $50.97 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.