CRUISING THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
Not as hip (or cheap) as Target, but not as sophisticated (or pricey) as Macy’s, Kohl’s Department Store is carving out its own niche in retail sales. The 40-year-old midwestern chain has found a sweet spot by mixing discount-store prices and convenience with department-store brands.

While other big department-store chains watch the poor economy decimate sales, Kohl’s is booming along with the discounters. In just one week this fall, the company opened 29 new stores for a total of 75 this year. Next year’s plans are even more ambitious: 80 new stores, and a new status as nationwide retailer.

The financial picture is just as hearty. Sales for fiscal 2001 were up 22 percent over the previous year. Profit growth has topped 30 percent for six years running.

Analysts say there’s room for more growth at Kohl’s, but argue that its stock is overvalued. But investors have yet to complain; a $1,000 investment at the IPO 10 years ago would be $37,000 at the end of fiscal 2001. And that’s pretty fertile middle ground.