Exclusive: Penney shrinks top name brands to emphasize own labels

Thu Dec 12, 2013 4:47pm EST
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By Phil Wahba

PLANO, Texas (Reuters) - J.C. Penney Co Inc (JCP.N: Quote) is looking to the past to build its future.

After two years of declining sales, the department store chain is eliminating or trimming some high-profile brands introduced by former Chief Executive Officer Ron Johnson, including its own jcp menswear, Joe Fresh clothes and some Martha Stewart-designed home furnishings.

"What we now need is to edit things out that didn't resonate sufficiently," CEO Mike Ullman told Reuters in an exclusive interview at Penney headquarters in Plano, Texas.

Penney plans to use the freed-up prime floor space for its more-profitable exclusive private-label brands. The retailer has already brought back its billion-dollar St. John's Bay apparel line as well as JCP Home and Cooks, and it plans to reintroduce its Ambrielle lingerie in February.

The changes are the latest efforts by Ullman, 67, to rebuild the retailer, whose sales tumbled 25 percent after Johnson tried to make the stores more upscale and eliminated popular coupons and brands.

"He's trying to somehow rebuild a store that has an appeal to the core J.C. Penney customer," said veteran retail analyst Walter Loeb of Loeb Associates.

Ullman had led Penney between 2004 and 2011. When he returned in April, he immediately reinstated the discounts and brought back St. John's Bay to get longtime customers back in stores.

"The customer never gave up on the goods," he said. "We gave up on the customer, and we paid a price for it."   Continued...

JC Penney Chairman and CEO Myron Ullman speaks during the meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington in this file photo from November 16, 2010. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Files