Culture shock

Carole Sloan, May 14, 2001

Now that the new JCPenney senior executive team is in place, it will be interesting to monitor the results emerging from the company's second annual vendor summit.

Earlier this month, some 200 vendors across the entire store merchandise spectrum gathered for two half-day sessions with Penney senior management, and the divisional merchandise managers outlined where Penney is and where it's going and how it hopes to get there.

The approach was basic retailing 101, with a number of vintage Allen Questrom & Co. tactics added to the overall strategic formula.

The new players at the top of JCPenney are hardly new to the marketplace, so their modus operandi for turning the giant Penney ship around held few surprises for the vendor community.

To no one's great surprise, a heavy promotional arsenal is planned — and, if one has been paying attention, it has been kind of creeping in to the current ad campaigns.

Since the folks at the top are old pros at this type of promotional activity, they are quite experienced in what one vendor refers to as "schnurring coop dollars." And noting who the players are at the top, a couple of key vendors said that their past track records indicate that what they say is not always what will happen in the store.

Besides, some observed, there's a different way of approaching the subject from a Penney perspective — and changing the perspective or business approach is one of the key challenges for Questrom as he accelerates efforts to move the company forward.

Merchandise and logistics also were critical issues discussed at the summit meeting. But again, the former depends on how intensely the message moves down the personnel ladder; the latter depends on looking at the whole process again. And, most important, the entire process depends on looking outside what has been a struggling organization, but one that has been awesomely introspective.

Clearly, that cultural abyss will be Questrom's biggest challenge — unless, of course, he plans to use a big broom and bring in a whole new team of players.

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