“Steve Jobs Would Have Called This Insanity.” Ron Johnson’s Transformation Of JC Penney Begins


It looks like they're having fun, but Apple's secret rules are nothing to smile about.
It looks like they're having fun, but Apple's secret rules are nothing to smile about.

When’s the last time you went shopping at JC Penney versus the Apple Store? The venerable retailer, overshadowed by the cheap-chic of Target, is looking to reshape itself by putting the iPhone maker’s former retail chief in charge. Ron Johnson, a 10-year veteran of Apple’s retail effort, explained the retailer and Cupertino, Calif. tech giant share much in common.

Johnson, who for ten years helped build Apple’s reputation as the iconic retailer, said when the company began opening stores in 2001, Apple had three percent of the market — the same amount JC Penney has now. Indeed, when Apple first scouted locations for its stores, he would park near JC Penney’s mall stores because they always had plenty of unused parking spaces.

The new JC Penney CEO aims to get away from constantly selling price and focusing on experience. Akin to Apple’s breakout Super Bowl commercial pitting the Macintosh against a 1984-like monolithic PC, Johnson told reporters earlier this week his goal is to replicate the Apple Store experience for JC Penney shoppers. “It’s not about buying, it’s about enriching someone’s life,” he said.

Although retail is about consumers buying products, that should not be the sole reason for people coming to JC Penney, Johnson notes. He said $1 billion worth of mail promotions in 2011 resulted in just 4 store visits. Johnsons invoked the name of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to back him up. “Steve would have called this insanity,” Johnson said. “At some point, you as a brand look desperate.”

The new retail chief also wants to bring its advertising budget in line with Apple’s. JC Penney will spend $80 million a month on advertising with 12 promotion per year. When Apple first began advertising the iPod, the company spent just $50 million every three months for the entire world.

The JC Penney retail stores will also be remade in the image of Apple Stores. Taking a page from the company’s use of two zones: one to attract customers and another for families to learn about products, JC Penney stores will begin offering a Town Square surrounded by Main Street. Like Target, which offers designer boutiques within stores, JC Penney’s “Town Square” will frequently offer unspecified products and activities. The Town Square concept will begin showing up in all JCP stores in 2013 with the makeover expected to be complete by 2015.

  • FriarNurgle

    JC Penny’s has ghetto clothes. Good luck, Mr. Johnson.

  • kootenayredneck

    I don’t think he’s to far off base, but one thing he has to remember, clothes are not like electronics. People can make, swap or what ever out of clothes, they can’t really with electronics.

  • Ken Hughes

    It’s about brand, specifically the public perception of your brand. I don’t go to an Apple store because I love the store layout. I go there for the products they sell. Until JC Penney focuses on the public perception of their “brand”, I don’t think the layout of the stores will have much impact.

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  • Connor Mulcahey

    Anyone esle hate when they refer to Apple as ” the Cupertino, Calif. tech giant”? An’t they just say Apple? I mean I know they are trying to avoid saying Apple so much to be more “profesional” but to me its just annoying. They do it inl ike every other post.

  • Garfinkel

    He is missing the point that Apple was already perceived as cool and cutting-edge before they opened a store. JC Penny is perceived as cheap.

  • Bob Forsberg

    JC Penney was about quality and value years ago. Too many interim “re-designers” attempted to make Penney’s something it wasn’t or could ever be. Stock high quality at low price basics and it becomes an island unto itself.

  • Hein S

    Let Ron do his Magic.  

    I would like to see what he can do to JCP

  • applextrent

    I went to a JC Penny to look at new cookware and they didn’t even have prices on the products. It was possible to tell what anything cost, ended up going to Macy’s and got a great set for a reasonable price thanks to a sale. Not sure if this is a recent develop for JC Penny to not put prices on products, but yeah not cool.

  • damacnut

    As much as I admire Ron’s approach and enthusiasm, I can predict that “it will NEVER work”. JCP is a dead and buried and has been for a long time. Retail department stores are generally boring to most except those who shop at Nordstrom’s, but they’re the exception to the rule. Also, a department store is MASSIVE by comparison to Apple stores and as others have mentioned, Apple is brand-centric whereas JCP is not.

    Again, it will never work, but he has to try something for all that he is getting paid … lol.

  • Njideka Okafor

    I kinda agree with you. But I also never down play on an effort. Lots of companies have been known to come to the near edge of the cliff and then somehow bounce back (including Apple). And Apple didn’t do it when we knew we needed all the classy stuff they came about.

    Still I’ll say, there’s a chance that Ron may just pull off something that’ll get Brands to conform to new JCP standards. And maybe deliver experience more than competitive prices. A long shot, but who knows the real strategy?

  • mikeoregon

    Our family once shopped at Penney’s for most of our clothing because they were reasonably well made and affordable. Then someone pulled a switch and suddenly Penney’s started looking like a remainder sale from Goodwill. You could buy pre-shredded jeans more readily than normal ones. If Ron can bring back the quality, we’d try them again.