Tuesday, June 19, 2012

J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) sinks after president leaves following short tenure

J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) sinks after president leaves following short tenureAtlanta, GA 6/19/12 (StreetBeat) -- JC Penney (NYSE: JCP) just kicked its president — Michael Francis — to the curb in the wake of dismal sales and what appears to be a failed turnaround attempt, but the retailer is still kicking. This rebranding effort is still young and if leadership stays the course, it could still be the most interesting retailer of 2012.

Heck, it still is, it’s just not yet successful. When CEO Ron Johnson climbed on board, jcpenney was already a sinking ship. For all those screaming that Johnson is to blame for the retailer’s financial losses need only look at the declining trends of the past few years. Recession or no, jcpenney had to do something.

What Johnson did was among the most daring moves in retail history. Eliminating the constant and confusing sales, streamlining the employee base, revamping marketing collateral and embarking on an effort to turn stores into a main street — a mini-mall if you will — that would showcase new and unique merchandise from various partners was epic.

But it hasn’t been an epic fail, as fellow Forbes contributor Steve Olenski writes. Not yet. Jcpenney is certainly teetering on the brink, it could back off this strategy and try something else, but what?

Does Johnson have a choice? What else can jcpenney be?

It doesn’t want to be Macy’s (NYSE: M), with its constant sales. There’s no room for two such department stores. Macy’ doesn’t really have room for two either, juggling and differentiating Macy’s from Bloomingdales is no small task.

Nor can jcpenney be Kohl’s (NYSE: KSS), a more direct competitor than Macy’s. Former management tried that and newer jcpenney stores look so much like a Kohl’s only the lack of sale signs distinguish the two chains. These photos were taken at jcpenney and Kohl’s stores withing a mile of each other in Valporaiso, IN.

Being the same isn’t what Johnson is about. He’s about being different, something he learned at Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL).

But jcpenney is a publicly traded company and he may not have much time. Differentiating is a monumental task. If Johnson and team could have developed the merchandise plan, signed on the partners and unveiled its main street concept in sync with a new marketing plan, advertising and spokesperson, it might have worked.

It still can, but Francis’ departure doesn’t bode well for jcpenney’s ability to stay the course.

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