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Now is the Summer of the Disconnect

Warren Shoulberg Publisher/Editorial DirectorWarren Shoulberg Publisher/Editorial Director
To the List of indignities that the J.C. Penney Co. has suffered over the past 18 months, you can now add one more: The totally dysfunctional disconnect between Mike Ullman's JCPenney and Ron Johnson's JCP home departments.
     And it's all being played out right now at a Penney store near you.
     Johnson's vision for JCP is now on full display at the store's home departments following the late spring roll-out of his totally new merchandising plan.
     Let's say one thing right up front: Johnson delivered exactly what he said he would, a vibrant, fresh and exciting reinvent of home, with all new merchandising, great new product, wonderful displays and a shopping experience virtually unparalleled in American retailing today.
     It is nothing short of brilliant: the signs with single words like Sleep and Dream; the bathtub full of glass balls with towel-draped mannequins nearby; the sophisticated packaging and graphics, the dramatically lit display bed vignettes, the spacious curtain fixtures.
     All of these elements are played out throughout the rest of the home area into house wares, tabletop and furniture.
     Martha Stewart pops up from time to time, in window fashions, food and paper party goods, but elsewhere is billed under her pseudonym, Everyday.
     It's all what Ron Jon promised.
     Mike Ullman's promise is very different. He has promised to get his Penney back into the black and it sure looks like the Johnson version of home is not going to accomplish that. Sales per square foot productivity has disaster written all over it in his JCP.
     So, Ullman's style of retailing has already begun. Much of that beautiful new home product is now being offered at 40% off. Plus 10% more if you say the secret word.
     It won't be long before the old fixtures are hauled out of the dumpster behind the store and returned to the selling floor to try to fill up some of those wide-open spaces. The print shop down in Plano has to be busy reprinting sale signs to plaster all over the understated point-of-sale signage.
     But whatever is done on the promotional front, the fact of the matter is that they can't get new goods onto the floor until at least the fourth quarter and even then, it's only going to be a smattering of old-style Penney product.
     So, the disconnect will be an extreme non contact sport for the next few months. Old Penney shoppers who walk the store are going to look at all of this new merchandise and wonder where their old store went. New shoppers who might have been tempted to wander into the store because they heard Jonathan Adler and Sophie Conran are there will instead be spooked off by all the coupons and loud promotions.
     And the in-store shopping experience will have absolutely nothing to do with the public persona that Ullman is recreating for Penney.
     How ironic that this was Johnson's problem, too, but it was 180 degrees in the other direction.
     It's going to be a long, cold summer.

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