Kohl's on Wednesday announced the appointment of Doug Howe as chief merchandising officer, reporting to CEO-elect Michelle Gass. Howe will be responsible for the overall merchandise strategy and the company's buying, planning, product design and development, sourcing, and merchandising transformation efforts, according to a press release.
Howe is a 30-year retail veteran, arriving from the Qurate Retail Group where he led merchandising for QVC and HSN as global chief merchandising officer. Before that, he drove QVC's merchandising efforts for 10 years, helping grow its fashion business and develop its proprietary businesses, the company said. He also had leadership roles with Gap Inc. in product design and development, various merchandising leadership roles at Walmart, and, at the start of his career, merchandising roles at May Department, including senior vice president and GMM.
Kohl's has struggled in a turnaround that's lasted years, but has recently seen traction, in part thanks to revamped merchandising that includes a leaner assortment and more name brands. The discount department store has also dedicated space to Amazon concessions and Aldi stores.
Gass, who takes over the chief executive spot this month, has been instrumental in Kohl's "Greatness Agenda" turnaround effort since her arrival three years ago as merchandising chief herself.
She went to work revamping the department store's private label Sonoma brand, part of a stable that brings in almost half the company's revenue, shepherded in brands like Under Armour and American Girl dolls and engineered the partnership with Amazon, which carves out space to sell Echo and other devices, as well as accepting Amazon returns. The Amazon partnership is also credited with helping to drive traffic into stores, which Kohl's (despite plans to scale back store size) still prizes as a significant sales channel.
In whole or in part, it's made a difference. The holidays lifted a lot of retailers, including Kohl's, but, nevertheless, its stellar Q4, when sales rose 9.2% and same-store sales rose 6.3%, was a marked departure from the previous year. Same-store sales for the full year rose 1.5%, way up from its 2.4% decrease in 2016.
Gass on Wednesday described Howe as a "proven merchant ... with a strong track record of driving growth through compelling products, brands, and customer experiences," and with experience at various types of retailers in various channels.
"I am impressed by Doug's collaborative leadership style and his passion for developing talent," she said in a statement. "He has a deep respect for Kohl's and the journey we are on, and I am confident that he will bring great value to our thinking and our plans for the future."