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Kohl’s has a long history dating back to the early 1960s. That was when founder Max Kohl – who was in the grocery store business – opened the first Kohl’s Department Store in a small Wisconsin town. He sold everything from candy to motor oil, but intentionally positioned his store to occupy a niche in between low-end discount stores and upscale department stores.
Stellar Growth, Then Lackluster Performance
Within a decade Max had a string of several successful stores. That got the attention of the United States division of the British corporation BAT, which used to also own well-known companies like Saks Fifth Avenue and Marshall Field. BAT bought an 80% stake in Kohl’s which instantly transformed it from a family-run business into a huge department store. Kohl’s more than tripled in size with the next 10 years.
But under BAT management Kohl’s emphasized bargain merchandise and the new discount store marketing image didn’t go over so well. Sales suffered, and in the 1980s BAT sold all of its Kohl’s stores to an investment group that refocused Kohl’s as a niche retailer selling quality merchandise at moderate prices.
Refocusing on a Unique Niche Market
The new plan – which was more true to Max Kohl’s original concept – paid off quite well and reinvigorated Kohl’s. By the early 1990s Kohl’s was a billion-dollar brand. The company went public in 1992, expanded operations, and quadrupled revenues to more than $4.5 billion.
These days Kohl’s operates more than 800 stores in 47 states and earns about $15-$16 billion a year while employing more than 100,000 people. High profile partners like Rachael Ray and Elle Magazine help to bolster the company’s up-market image with a full range of unique designer products and upscale offerings. But prices at Kohl’s store are still highly competitive and reasonable. That combination of good quality and decent pricing has always been the key to its sustainable success.
The Kohl’s Charge Card
Kohl’s offers its own plastic which is a store charge card account. In other words it is not a standard credit card, but you can use it to make purchases at Kohl’s and then pay for them later. You can also postpone repayment by carrying a balance, but for that privilege you’ll be charged an APR of 21.9%. This isn't the worst charge card APR I've recently seen but it's not worth it if you carry a balance.
There is no membership fee and if you apply for the Kohl’s card you’ll get a 10% discount on your first purchase. You’ll also get special discounts throughout the year of between 15% and 30%, including ones that apply even when you buy on-sale or clearance merchandise. You can apply for the card – and manage your account – online. Or you can fill out an application while in a Kohl’s store.
Kohl’s MVC Program:
Becoming a card-carrying Kohl’s customer also allows you to participate in the Kohl's Most Valued Customer (MVC) program. Once you spend at least $600 on your Kohl's Charge Card during the year you reach MVC status. The MVC program gives you chances to save money through special MVC sales scheduled throughout the year, and you can save up to $170 per year. You also get a newsletter with fashion and consumer lifestyle tips.
Is a Kohl's Credit Card Right for You
Kohl’s is a reliable store with a solid reputation and a diverse inventory of quality merchandise. But if you are thinking about getting their charge card, I strongly suggest you look again at the really anemic (almost nonexistent) benefits it offers. Even if you spend enough to get into the MVC program you’re only going to be rewarded with a few chances to buy items on sale.
In addition, your potential to save a decent amount of money is handicapped by the fact that you cannot rack up savings of more than $170 a year. Most customers will only earn a fraction of that amount unless they max-out every sales opportunity that comes along. A lot of cash rewards credit cards will give you a lot more value than that in cash-back or rewards points just for signing up for their card and using it to buy whatever you want, anywhere you want. Owner beware …
*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes per the card issuer.