FORMER SEARS CMO: Here's Why Ron Johnson Will Eventually Succeed At JCPenney

JC Penney Fresh Air Event

Photo: Aimee Groth, Business Insider

JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson has been widely criticised by retail analysts and pundits for his turnaround attempt of the 110-year-old department store, but not everyone shares their thoughts.Former Sears marketing chief David Selby, now president of ad agency Schafer Condon Carter, recently wrote a column for AdAge detailing why he thinks Johnson will eventually succeed.

“In the end, I believe Mr. Johnson’s transformation will be successful, assuming he is given the opportunity to complete it,” he writes. “And frankly, what other option does JC Penney have?

Here’s the gist of his argument:

  • The reason the board hired Johnson in the first place was to have him be disruptive, and disruption takes time and patience.
  • Johnson knows that brick-and-mortar retail will always have a place. He has the will and the imagination to create a customer experience that will bring people in, and he has complete power to change whatever is necessary in existing stores to create a “fresh” concept.
  • Johnson has proven that he has the humility to admit his mistakes (like the failed marketing approach to his pricing strategy) and move on.

Selby’s in a unique position to analyse JCPenney. As a marketing exec at Sears in the late ’90s and early ’00s, he worked through the revamp of an aged, yet still powerful, department store brand. 

Now, the Sears brand remains a decrepit relic of the past because not enough was done to modernize the brand. At JCPenney, Johnson has staked his legacy on an absolute, total transformation.

Whether it works or not, Johnson is all-in.

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