What would a brick-and-mortar department store look like … if Steve Jobs’ management team were running it?
That’s the question, now that the 110-year-old retailer JC Penney is launching a major makeover inspired by its new leadership team: the new CEO, Ron Johnson, and the new president, Michael Francis.
Johnson was recently Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail Operations. He pioneered the Apple Retail Store, with its groundbreaking Genius Bar, and decided to leave Apple last year to take on the major challenge of rebuilding JC Penney, and the whole department store concept, from the ground up. Francis is (like Johnson) a veteran of Target, where he was chief marketing officer. He helped propel Target to the spot it now occupies as the country’s leading upscale discounter.
Has JC Penney started a new, forward-looking chapter in its history? “Just like Apple,” Johnson said in Ad Age, “we’re going to learn that the best days aren’t in the rear-view mirror, they’re right down the road … I believe the department store is the No. 1 opportunity in American retail. And this isn’t something I decided last June when I took the job. This is something I decided 10, 15 years ago.”
That’s exciting stuff. One problem for me, though, is that the chain’s initial national TV ad campaign was way off the mark. It was discombobulated, and it didn’t connect. I wasn’t sure what customers were supposed to take away from the ads, what value they were articulating, or what action they were meant to inspire. And there’s a deeper problem to look at. Unfortunately, when you walk into the JC Penney store environment now, any interest or excitement they might have created doesn’t work. The stores are still the same old stores. The coolness of Apple is the simplicity, the minimalistic approach to the stores. That’s what makes it a fun, easy place to shop. The JC Penney stores are old and tired. You can’t make a new brand promise and still have the same old experience.
Now they’ve done the second round of spots with Ellen DeGeneres and it’s the same thing – the ads may be on a new track, but it’s still the same old space.
You can’t make a dog a cat, and that’s what JC Penney is trying to do. When the environment hasn’t changed, your marketing will overpromise … and your environment will underdeliver.
Can JC Penney find a way to “think different” — and thrive — in the year 2012? We’re about to find out.
AdAge: JC Penney Reinvents Department-Store Retailing