International News - Kohl's banks on brands for growth

US department store group Kohl's is seeking to restore same-store sales growth this year with a raft of proprietary and own-brand initiatives supported by merchandising changes.

Kohl's will introduce Polo Ralph Lauren brand Chaps, a men's sports range, in January. The licensed brand is likely to be stretched across menswear and possibly into womenswear.

The retailer has similarly ambitious plans for new homewares signing Royal Velvet, which joins recent recruit Laura Ashley. A limited offer will debut in the spring followed by spin-off ranges.

Kohl's mainstay is branded fashion, but it intends to launch trendy men and women's clothing line Apt. 9. New kidswear ranges include Nickelodeon and the Disney Once Upon A Dream baby range.

Kohl's is also altering the layout and visual merchandising of key departments, testing alternative product adjacencies and new fixtures to enhance store shopability and sightlines.

At present, the 600-strong Kohl's chain is the fastest growing big cap retailer by space in the US. Approximately 95 new stores will open this year, followed by another 95 in 2005. It is also testing a new small-store format, with a handful more in the pipeline.

First-quarter sales rose 12.4 per cent to US$2.4 billion (£1.39 billion), but comparable sales slipped 0.1 per cent.

'We strongly believe Kohl's unique position as a big-box retailer selling department store-branded apparel is still a valid and under-saturated concept,' said Merrill Lynch analyst Dan Barry.