Reader Responds to JC Penney Article

My round-up of industry leaders weigh-in on the abrupt departure of Michael Francis from JC Penney drew many comments from our readers.  Here’s a comment from a leading home retailer, and my response:

Dear Robin,

Like you I am still a believer in the grand plan. Primarily because I want to see retail as we know it get out of this ridiculous cycle of sale, sale, sale + another 15% off sale on today’s only sale. With the retail landscape changing so fast, I do not see how this current model (at the dept store and specialty level) can stay as-is for the long haul. I like the approach of “good value at a good price” with a little teaser incentive to buy at a certain time. But then again, I am a guy. Unfortunately Johnson is trying to disrupt an industry via a traditional retailer – one of their own going rogue. All that baggage cannot just be tossed out overnight.

Plus the shop-in-shop or town hall strategy is not even up and running yet – so lets see how it goes. Finally, I agree that Francis just over focused on the new branding (which turned out very nice) but dropped the ball on the message. Maybe this is a case of trying to accomplish too much to fast but let’s face it – Francis and Johnson seemed to have forgotten that there are a lot of zombies walking around the mall…

Response:

Thanks for your note and it’s good to know I’m not the “Lone Ranger” in my belief in Johnson’s long-term strategy. It gets lonelier and lonelier each day as the JCP transformation evolves. As I’ve said before, vision and long-term strategy is one thing, implementation another. And, because Johnson’s re-visioning of JCP, indeed of all department store models, is so fundamentally disruptive and game-changing (to say nothing of its grand, high volume presentation to the entire world), its implementation is not only bound to be full of unexpected trip wires, but each one of them will be minutely and painfully scrutinized by the press, the financial world, and competitors.

So, as each misstep in implementation occurs, along with the expected short term drop in traffic and sales, the key question at the end of the day is: how many trip wires, and how much time, and how much revenue loss will the Board and shareholders allow before they push back against Johnson and his visionary objective?

He’s betting consumers are ready for his revolutionary concept and will buy into all of it — once they see it and understand it. The naysayers are betting the consumer likes and expects the department store model just the way it is, thank you, including the tsunami of coupons, discounts, deals, and on and on. And, they point to the precipitous decline in business at JCP to support their claim.

And, yes, there are a lot of zombies walking the halls of the malls. But, just remember, when heroin addicts can no longer get a rush from another injection – when they become inured to the drug — it’s the beginning of the inevitable “crash” followed by recovery and a new life without drugs. Are the consumer addicts ready? We will see.

Robin Lewis About Robin Lewis

Robin Lewis has over forty years of strategic operating and consulting experience in the retail and related consumer products industries. He has held executive positions at DuPont, VF Corporation, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), and Goldman Sachs, among others, and has consulted for dozens of retail, consumer products and other companies. In addition to his role as CEO and Editorial Director of The Robin Report, he is a professor at the Graduate School of Professional Studies at The Fashion Institute of Technology.