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Ron Johnson’s 4 Mistakes As CEO of JCPenney


Screen shot 2013-04-10 at 4.42.44 AMWith the advantages of hindsight it is tempting to point to Ron Johnson’s dismissal at JCPenney from several angles. Not the least of which would be the “I told you so” perspective. But it’s not that simple.

We’ve written over 6 pieces on RJ at JCP. Early on we supported RJ’s pricing concept (and, in reality, still do), later we lambasted marketing, merchandising and the concept of ‘concept shops’. We’ve been critical.

But this is no time for piling on.

Johnson is a merchant. He cut his teeth within Target. Gained acclaim at Apple. So where did RJ go wrong on JCP? As they say, let’s break it down:

Alienating Customers – It’s one thing to want to attract new customers…it’s another thing to do so while snubbing the customers you have who pay your bills. And that’s exactly what RJ did. He told JCP customers we are not who you think we are…we are better than that (while implying we are better than you).

Test Once, Then Test Again to Validate Test #1 – Holy Crapamollie… taking the JCP biz model, tuning it inside out and launching a whole new biz model –  IN AN ‘EFFING VACUMN is suicide.

Concept Shops Are The Solution – RJ was way off on this one…as smart-guy/astute creative guy Al S said ‘Look how well the Lands’ End ”concept shop” have done for Sears…neither of these dinosaurs have a clue’….

What Works in One Brand Is Not Guaranteed To Work At Another – Apple and Target are two ‘hip’ brands…JCP – not so much. The formula of success at winning brands is not applicable to brands that are floundering.

The fallout of RJ’s time at JCP is staggering:

– JCP stock value has lost value

– JCP has taken a body blow it may not recover from

– Headhunters will look askance at execs that have had success at brands with the wind at their backs

– Mall owners are shaking in their boots as another corner anchor teeters on the edge of oblivion

RJ’s tenure at JCP, is at once, a shame and a head scratcher. Could it have been avoided? Could it have come out different? The only person to ask is Michael Francis. Francis was the Golden Boy of Target Corp marketing, lured away to JCP by RJ. Francis blew off the JCP gig after a couple of months. Perhaps he saw the train wreck before it left the station.

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