The Rise and Fall of Kohl’s, the Midwestern Department Store That Took Over the Nation

Marc Gordon
Jul 21, 2019

Kohl’s, the Midwestern-based department store chain is struggling as the retail industry takes a fall. The company announced a major reorganization that involves eliminating 250 jobs, including several employees at the regional management level. Along with other department stores, Kohl’s is struggling to regain traction in an uncertain retail landscape. The Wisconsin-based retailer announced that it will take measures to battle dwindling sales. “The organizational changes we’ve made are driven by the evolution of our strategic business priorities to create a more agile and empowered organization to support our long-term sustainable growth,” Jen Johnson, Kohl’s senior vice president of communications, said in a statement obtained by Business Insider’s Áine Cain.

Back in the early 2000s, Kohl’s was booming with busy stores and events with notable celebrities. There are more than 1,100 stores in 49 states. Kohl’s was started in Brookfield, Wisconsin, by Maxwell Kohl in 1962. Kohl was a Polish immigrant who had worked in factories in the U.S. for several years before starting his first company, a small grocery store, at just 26 years old. The store included “modern-style supermarket” fixtures, like a bakery and a deli. Kohl went on to open 48 supermarkets in Wisconsin before selling in 1970. Kohl was later inspired to open a department store business after he experienced difficulty buying a shirt. Kohl modeled his department store after his grocery store chain with a focus on customer service and finding efficiencies to help lower prices. Kohl’s became popular for offering high-quality goods for less.

In 2006, Kohl’s began to invest heavily in sustainability efforts at its stores, including installing solar panels on store roofs. By 2006, Kohl’s started bringing on big-name designers and celebrity partners, starting with launching an exclusive collection with famous wedding dress designer Vera Wang. They also teamed with Avril Lavigne in 2008 where she launched her Abbey Dawn collection. And in 2010, Jennifer Lopez and her then-husband Marc Anthony announced two lifestyle brans that were sold exclusively at Khol’s.
In a statement to employees obtained by Business Insider’s Áine Cain, Kohl’s senior vice president of communications Jen Johnson said laid-off employees will receive “a competitive several package.”