Photo: Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images
Back in March, Jennifer Reingold at Fortune wrote a profile of JCPenney CEO and former Apple retail guru Ron Johnson, and she revealed that he received advice from some of the heaviest hitters in the retail business while he was crafting his strategy for JCPenney.Now, six months into his turnaround attempt, we’re able to see if he’s actually following through with that they suggested.
They were J. Crew CEO and turnaround legend Mickey Drexler, Diane von Furstenberg, Ralph Lauren, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Topshop’s Philip Green.
They told him that it’s all about product, that the store needs to emphasise the “American experience,” and that presentation can’t be forgotten. They went over strategy too, and thought he was “rolling the dice.” They were excited that someone was going to try to change the department store industry.
But, importantly, they weren’t all in agreement with what Johnson was going to do with JCPenney. Perhaps it was just too radical — it may have been smarter to do things more incrementally.
So did Johnson use the advice given to him by the retail sages?
Yes, but not all of it.
He already knew that it was all about product — after all, that’s what lived off of at both Apple and Target — and that’s what he did by adding all these higher quality brands to JCPenney. He has also focused his marketing around becoming America’s store, and spent millions to revamp how the stores are presented.
But, at its heart, he was never going to change his grand plan for transformational change. It’s evidenced by another quote in that Fortune profile.
“The only things that haven’t worked for me are when I’ve held back,” he told Fortune. “There’s no reason to sell an idea short. The only risk would be to not fulfil the dream.”
Johnson was going to go big, no matter what anyone said, even folks like Drexler and Lauren. He was going to put his reputation on the line — one he has built up for decades in the retail business. If JCPenney fails, it will be his fault and no one else’s.
We’re bound to see tweaks — such as the promotional language and pricing strategy — but that’s as far as it’s going to go, if Johnson is to be believed.
He’s all-in, and the retailer’s 150,000 employees will just have to hope that he’s right.
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