Kohl’s CEO Kevin Mansell on what it takes to get store’s groove back

September 22, 2014, 1:20 PM UTC
Trevor OShana

Kohl’s (KSS) has embarked on an ambitious plan to get back to growth, with new initiatives going into high gear this autumn. The department store chain was a high-flyer for years, going from 79 stores in 1992 to 1,150 two decades later. But it has stumbled, with comparable sales falling in 2013 and continuing to do so in the first half of 2014. An accelerated roll-out of beauty departments within its stores and a new loyalty program focused on all customers, not just those with store cards, are key components of Kohl’s plan.

Kevin Mansell, CEO since 2008, spoke with Fortune in an exclusive interview about his plan to give Kohl’s its mojo back. Here are some of his thoughts:

On the importance of the new beauty boutiques

“Customers have said they want to buy beauty products at Kohl’s, but the presentation and product Kohl’s offered was not at the quality level offered elsewhere.”

“There are other definitely customers who, if you don’t fulfill some of their regular needs, they just start to gravitate a little more to the competition.”

On why he’s launching a loyalty program that it goes beyond Kohl’s store card holders

“Credit is a more difficult thing to give to consumers today—fewer consumer qualify and frankly, fewer consumers want to be tied to one form of payment in order to get the most value from the relationship.”

On the benefits of the new loyalty program and the trove of data it will yield

“We have the possibility of having relationships with every single customer we do business with regardless of whether they use a Kohl’s charge or not. That gives us the ability to communicate one on one with us with them.”

Main tasks of the incoming chief merchant, whose name will be disclosed by late October

“Some of the work will be to improve the presentation and presentation of our national brands because we know that we have slipped with consumers in their perceptions of Kohl’s as a place to get great national brands.”

The company this fall will pilot at 100 stores a service that allows shoppers to order products on line and pick up in-store before a nationwide rollout. Here is why he think it’s important.

“We’re in a really good place because we’ve got 1,200 stores across the country and frankly, that really means we have 1,200 distribution centers so we can get to customers really quickly and those customers can also get to us really quickly.”