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JCP's Allison on Product and Presentation

While housewares, as the newest member of the JCPenney home furnishings family, is producing the fastest sales increases, home textiles is one of the retailer's biggest opportunities.

"I want home textiles to be about great product, great presentation, great packaging," said Jeff Allison, executive vp, general merchandise manager, home and custom decorating, in a conversation with Home Textiles Today after the company's analysts meeting last week.

One of the challenges, he remarked, "is that we don't always flow the merchandise as well as we should." Allison, who assumed his role in home last December, said, "We will focus on our brand presentation, and clear up the visual clutter in the stores. And we're cleaning up some signage as well."

What the company is aiming for in its already-dominant home business "is a one-eye look and feel. We want a clean aesthetic, a shoppable, not trendy" environment, he added. "We're more than actively working on them" and some of these changes will be visible in back-to-school, but definitely across the whole company by spring 2008.

An important element in the home store's merchandising approach is the synergy between the retail departments and the "direct" businesses via internet and catalog. "In home textiles we already have that synergy," he noted, pointing to such areas as window coverings and bed and bath. "The internet is our referral and cross-selling tool. In home textiles we can show customers 80,000 skus in-store and 150,000 in the catalog and on the internet."

To further develop the synergies between the three channels, Allison said, "We now have Jack Kendig [vp, director of home for JCPenney Direct] as part of our senior leadership team, attending meetings with the retail senior leadership."

While the focus at Penney is on the company's stable of power brands, which company executives during the analysts meeting last week pegged at 45% of the total mix, Allison said, "While we are fully committed to our private brands, there is a strong opportunity with the great national brands."

In determining which will prevail in any product area, he remarked, "The customer has to tell us; each will find its level. We are not going to arbitrarily determine that."

As for the changes announced last week in the product development and design area, Allison said, "We are building our capability in-house to design and to sourcing where it makes sense. And suppliers have to make a difference for us to use them in the non-direct business."

As for American Living, the joint JCPenney and Polo Ralph Lauren storewide project that will launch in spring '08, Allison said, "We're on track in planning and development. We have powerful positions in bed, bath, window, and luggage for the launch. Housewares and furniture will follow."

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