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.
You may already be familiar with the flash sale site Fab.com that launched over the summer. It rocks in a big way. If your style vibe is retro/vintage inspired/whimsical/arty/don’t take yourself too seriously, it’s for you. If it’s not, it’s worth checking out anyway. You may find the options a bit hit or miss on any given day (the site typically features @ six or so new designers/artisans/product collections daily), but I promise you’ll find at least one must-have item in the course of a week. And since the price points range from as little as $5.00 to as much as several thousand, there really is something for everyone – well, everyone who shares the above described esthetic.
And that really is the point – there is an incredibly strong product vision at work here, which tends to be missing in most other flash sale sites. In the old days, this used to be called merchandising – picking the right product, combining it with the right product assortment so as to tell a compelling story, offering it at the right price point and displaying it in an appealing manner to a prospective customer that is likely to be receptive to it and want to buy it. There are sadly almost no real merchants left anymore – there’s Mickey Drexler, who ran The Gap during its heyday in the 90s and more recently reinvented JCrew; Ron Johnson, the genius behind the Genius Bar and Apple Retail Stores, who is leaving shortly for JC Penney (I have no idea why); and no one else I can think of. The Fab folks have restored my faith that some people understand there is more to building a successful retail business than a laser focus on reducing the number of shopping carts that are started and abandoned or maximizing the revenue per square foot – it requires a little art and a little magic. And that, my friends, is called merchandising. Not curation (which word should go the way of “synergy” unless used in reference to a museum or gallery exhibit), but merchandising.
Forbes has a nice piece on the company here. Site is by membership only, BUT they’re running a deal now – if you use the link http://fab.com/wfente you’ll get a $10 free credit when you join. The deal expires at 3:28pm ET on Friday, 9/16/11, so go to it. It pays to know Spamothemag…