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Kohl’s plans smaller shops, wants Sephora to hit $2 billion in sales as it faces activist pressure

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The Kohl’s logo is displayed on the exterior of a Kohl’s store on January 24, 2022 in San Rafael, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Kohl’s on Monday issued fresh long-term financial targets, including growing sales by a low-single-digit percentage annually, as the retailer faces pressure from activists to consider a sale and unlock value from its real estate.

Ahead of a planned virtual meeting with investors, Kohl’s announced that it aims to grow its Sephora business to more than $2 billion in annual sales. Kohl’s has opened about 200 of the Sephora shop-in-shops inside its brick-and-mortar locations, so far, and is on track to hit 850 by next year. The company hasn’t previously broken out Sephora revenue on its earnings reports.

Kohl’s also said it’s on pace to open more than 100 smaller-format shops over the next four years, in a bid to attract new customers.

Chief Executive Michelle Gass said in a statement that the retailer is undergoing a significant transformation of its business model, to be the retailer of choice in the active and casual lifestyle categories.

“We have fundamentally restructured our business to drive sustainable and profitable growth, while providing a strong return to shareholders,” she said.

In addition to the longer-term revenue goal, Kohl’s said it will be targeting operating margins of between 7% and 8% annually; per-share earnings growth of a mid-to-high single-digit percentage; and operating cash flow of over $5.5 billion, with roughly $2.5 billion of free cash flow between 2022 to 2024.

Monday’s meeting with investors and analysts is under a bigger spotlight as the retailer faces amplified pressure from activist groups, one of which is seeking to take control of the retailer’s board.

Last month, Kohl’s rejected the takeover offers that were on the table, which it said undervalued its business. In recent weeks, though, Kohl’s said it has been working with bankers and other financial advisors to consider unsolicited bids and also to make some proactive outreach to potential buyers.

Activists Macellum Advisors and Engine Capital have argued that Kohl’s has underperformed other off-mall retailers such as Target and TJ Maxx, and even some department store chains including Macy’s. Kohl’s shares are only up about 6% over the past 12 months, compared with Macy’s stock, which is up about 65%. The firms also have urged Kohl’s to consider selling some of its real estate and leasing it back, in order to unlock capital.

On Friday, Macellum called Kohl’s recently released fiscal fourth-quarter results disappointing, saying it remained skeptical of the retailer’s future given the current board of directors and management configuration.

“Why were sales uniquely hampered by supply chain issues compared to many other retailer peers?” asked Macellum Managing Partner Jonathan Duskin.

For the three-month period ended Jan. 29, Kohl’s reported revenue of $6.22 billion, which was slightly short of analysts’ estimates, but it issued a more upbeat revenue outlook for 2022 despite ongoing supply chain obstacles. The retailer also said it planned to double its annual dividend and buy back at least $1 billion of its stock this year.

On Monday, Kohl’s emphasized its plans to keep growing its assortment of active and casual apparel and accessories. The company said it also hopes to significantly grow its women’s dress business, while also expanding outdoor and swim wear, and expanding its selection of inclusive sizes.

Over the long term, Kohl’s is projecting its digital business to bring in $8 billion in annual revenue, in part thanks to its ongoing efforts to make it easier for visitors to find brands and shop on its website. Kohl’s total revenue in fiscal 2021 amounted to $19.4 billion, up from $16 billion a year earlier.

The company also said it will be rolling out a self-service buy online, pick up in store option to all locations this year, while it continues to test self-service returns and check-out offerings in stores.

Kohl’s virtual investor day is set to kick off at 9 am ET.

Find the full press release from Kohl’s here.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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