Addendum – August 1, 2012: The original post was written in October, 2011, and given the passage of time and JCP’s financial performance since then, it is clearly dated. I still think the Johnson/Francis team could have done great things – problem is they rolled out the re-branding in a big, splashy way before they could bring the product and stores up to the standards of the so-called new and improved JCP experience. So yes, I have a bit of egg on my face. But it just goes to show you – the best plans in the world ain’t worth the paper they’re written on if you don’t execute.
Original Post: If you follow such things, no doubt you’ve heard that Ron Johnson of Apple Retail Stores and Genius Bar fame and, IMO, one of the few true merchants out there (as I’ve discussed before, Mickey Drexler of JCrew is pretty much the only other one) is set to become the new CEO of JC Penney come November 1st. What you may not know is that Johnson spent his formative merchant years at Target – 15 years, to be exact, before the 11 he spent at Apple. Word is that he was a bit of a maverick at Target, which is not really in keeping with their corporate culture but probably served him well at Apple. Today, Target announced that its CMO, Michael Francis, is leaving the company after a decade to join…(wait for it)…JC Penney as its new president. Francis is the creative brains behind Target’s brand positioning and its best known ad campaigns, including the recent Missoni launch. Interestingly, high profile design deals like Missoni, as well as Liberty of London, Michael Graves and others (full disclosure: I was CEO of Swell, one of Target’s “design partners”) don’t live on the merchant side of Target’s business; rather, they reside within marketing, which was in Francis’ purview.
Have you ever been to a JC Penney? I have – once. It was for research. I very nearly died of boredom. Can you recall a single JC Penney ad or product deal or anything interesting they have ever done? Anything they do particularly well? Anything that distinguishes them from any other retail chain? Me neither. I think that’s about to change.