It’s been nearly impossible to miss the headlines about poor ol’ JCPenney, as the media continues to pile on. Much of the criticism is deserved. Former CEO Ron Johnson’s ego was allowed to amok for 16 months by a Board of Directors who drank the Kool-Aid until they believed that a multi-category department store could be run like a single category computer business. They and Johnson (yes, both bear responsibility) have brought an American retail icon to its knees and kicked the majority of JCPenney shoppers to the curb in their quest to remake JCPenney into an Apple/Target hybrid.
No one who’s written about JCPenney over the years (me, included) disagrees that change has long been needed to make the retailer more relevant. But excessive change without testing was a huge gamble and Ron Johnson did not roll the dice well. However, what few reporters are talking about is this–Johnson gambled with more than ideas. He gambled with the financial livelihood of every person who works at JCPenney and the welfare of their families.
As the disaster continues to play out in the press, there are two things I believe JCPenney has done right.
First, their Board of Directors finally heeded Allen Questrom’s advice (although it took the retail turnaround king two public outcries to shake the Board from their trance). Johnson’s out, Myron (Mike) Ullman’s back in. JCPenny should thank its lucky stars Ullman’s ego is unlike Johnson’s or he’d have told the Board (who gave him the boot in favor of Johnson) to take a hike. Here’s hoping Allen Questrom will be behind the scenes helping Ullman strategize, too.
Second, the new Michael Graves Design collection. Ullman’s indicated he’ll be looking for middle ground, both for short-term financial reasons and long-term growth. If I could cast a vote, I’d say keep this new collection. It works, especially the small appliances line.
What a cool toaster ($60).
What a gorgeous coffeemaker ($80).
Michael Graves Design is exactly what JCPenney needs: a measured dose of inspired style, unexpected design and good quality at a fair price point. That’s something customers, old and new, want. That’s thinking that will save the day for JCPenney and the thousands of people who depend on them for their paychecks.