There has been a lot of chatter in our industry circles — really, everywhere — about the recent big announcement from J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson regarding the iconic brand’s plans for the future. Anyone who’s visited a J.C. Penney lately — present company included — can see the brand needs to make some changes. They’ve been losing traction to competitors like Target and Kohl’s in recent years, and, in my opinion, have had some trouble defining themselves in a fairly crowded and competitive segment. Similar to the issues facing Sears, J.C. Penney seems to be suffering from an identity crisis.
I see this new strategy as less of a rebranding and more of a “reinvention.” It’s certainly about more than just changing the logo — although that’s happening also — to a newly stylized JCP (though simple is always better, I’m not 100% sure I like it). This plan has been characterized by some as an attempt to “rewrite the retail rulebook,” and, while I think that’s clearly a bit of an exaggeration, this is an ambitious step for a company that has traditionally been more, well … traditional. It might literally and figuratively pay off for them, but the brand is headed into uncharted territory here, and I have some questions and concerns about some aspects of the strategy.
Some of the highlights of the new plan include a smaller new store prototype; a leaner, dramatically lower and more intuitive pricing structure that will be as much as 40% lower than the current figures; a redesign of store layouts to feature a number of compartmentalized “shop-in-shops” for a smaller, but much more diverse list of global brands; monthly merchandising and marketing resets; and significant pared down staffing and infrastructure aimed at making the retailer leaner and more efficient. This is clearly a serious attempt to redefine who they are, and I can’t help wondering if they missed out on an opportunity to go “all in” and change their name. Even a sagging retailer like J.C. Penney has some strong brand equity associated with that familiar name, but I wonder if that is a good thing or a bad thing? I also worry about the lengthy timeline. The new store prototype won’t be rolled out until 2015, and many of these changes will be