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  • Jennifer Marks

Penney's in my thoughts

If it seems like there's been a whole lotta JCPenney in the news lately, it's because there has.

In marketing terms, it's been a JCPenney spring. The company has saturated the trade with a steady series of announcements, debuts and previews.

The big news out of its analysts meeting last month was that Penney is moving on several fronts: on the mall, off the mall, on the Internet and through the mail.

Within days, Penney's top executives and home merchants were in New York unveiling to the trade and shelter book media the Colin Cowie bridal registry program — which doesn't hit its tri-channel outlets until September.

Last week, it pulled a page from the Target Book of Big City Marketing to officially announce the arrival at its stores of the Chris Madden Home program. As did Target last year when it launched the captive Isaac Mizrahi apparel line, Penney has leased space in Rockefeller Center to boost the profile of its new Madden house brand in home.

All of which has us wondering what we're going to write about when JCPenney stops announcing something new every week.

True, Manhattanites will have little more than three weeks to peruse the temporary Madden showroom. But the high-profile marketing gambit demonstrates chutzpah — and supreme confidence in its choices.

I have been accused in the past of "drinking the Kool-Aid" on the subject of JCPenney. Everybody knew what was wrong with Penney, the argument goes, and the fix was Retail 101. So why should it get so much credit for doing the obvious?

Well, riddle me this, Batman: If it's so easy to cure a company whose weaknesses are manifest, why are Kmart and Sears still searching for the golden elixir?

Penney chief Allen Questrom, Sears chief Alan Lacy and then-Kmart chief Chuck Conaway took the reins at their respective companies within weeks of each other. Among the three chains, Penney is the only one today showing a clear sense of momentum. Back at the starting line, the three shared similar problems: outdated systems, outmoded organizational structures, a lack of direction, and an inability to convince sufficient numbers of consumers of their relevance.

Once upon a time, people referred to Penney as "Jacques Pen-nay," in the same manner that folks now speak of Target as "Tar-zhay." (Or at least we did in the Midwest.) Penney is working its way toward once again deserving that Frenchified pronunciation.

Certainly, it would be premature to call Penney's new initiatives a slam-dunk, a fact Penney's execs readily admit. As one noted last week, now it's up to the consumer to vote.

I'll say this, Penney is sure giving her a lot of levers to pull.

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