Kohl's CEO Kevin Mansell is 'much more positive' about 2018 as he prepares to step down

Key Points
  • Outgoing Kohl's CEO Kevin Mansell's efforts, like partnering with Amazon and opening smaller locations in more urban metros, are helping drive new shoppers to the retailer.
  • Proof of this, same-store sales surged more than 6 percent during the holiday period.
  • Mansell will be succeed by Michelle Gass next month.
Kohl’s CEO: We have to compete in an omnichannel world

Kohl's outgoing CEO, Kevin Mansell, said the retailer's efforts within the past year are helping drive new shoppers to its stores, while retaining loyal customers.

"We are much more positive as we go into [2018]," Mansell told CNBC's Courtney Reagan Wednesday on "Squawk on the Street." "We think amplifying the role of the store is the right strategy for us."

Kohl's has nearly 1,200 locations today, most of which are situated away from malls, unlike its peers Macy's, J.C. Penney and Sears. That positioning has allowed Kohl's to test new initiatives and still thrive as fewer shoppers visit indoor shopping centers. Kohl's has been working with Amazon, opening smaller stores and changing its mix of apparel inventory with a bigger emphasis on fitness brands Under Armour and Nike.

Mansell, who's been with Kohl's for more than two decades, will be succeeded next month by Michelle Gass, the retailer's current chief merchandising and customer officer. Gass notably spearheaded a unique partnership between Kohl's and Amazon, where shoppers are now able to return purchases made on and buy Amazon devices at select Kohl's locations.

The retailer is meanwhile preparing to open remodeled stores, bringing in sub-tenants to lease back excess space. Discount grocer Aldi will be the first to open up beside Kohl's. Mansell has told CNBC that grocery chains and gyms, like Planet Fitness, would fit well in those locations and help drive traffic to the shopping center.

"I think any well-capitalized business is a potential partner of ours, but the ones that drive traffic we'll lean into most," Mansell said Wednesday. "The most important thing is to be a headquarters for people to shop at."

Another strategy for Kohl's has been to open smaller stores, something other retailers including Target and Sears are pursuing. Mansell told CNBC last month that online sales are improving as Kohl's opens more of these pint-sized, 35,000-square-feet shops.

Same-store sales at Kohl's surged more than 6 percent over the holiday period, outpacing analysts' estimates, proving that Mansell and his team are making progress. During the same quarter a year earlier, same-store sales were down 2.2 percent.

Kohl's shares are up roughly 50 percent from a year ago.