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Jennifer Marks

JCP: The One to Watch

Jennifer MarksJennifer Marks Editor-in-Chief
JCPENNEY DELIVERED ANOTHER not-so-hot monthly comp sales performance last week, one sufficiently discouraging that it announced it is now projecting a loss for the third quarter.
     But last week the retailer also announced another hiring coup: Target marketing ace Micahael Francis will join the company as president. This follows the July news that former Apple retail vp Ron Johnson will officially take the helm as the company's new ceo on Nov. 1.
     The one-two punch recalls the frisson a decade ago that surrounded the hiring of legendary retail impresario Allen Questrom as chairman and ceo alongside the arrival of Walmart merchandising whiz Vanessa Castagna, who ultimately became chairman, president and ceo of stores, catalog and Internet operations.
     The question: Can lightening strike twice?
     JCPenney concluded the last fiscal year with a tepid 1.2% sales increase after three consecutive years of annual sales declines. But its worth remembering that what Questrom and Castagna inherited was a truly moribund retail entity, a veritable beached whale saddled with musty backend systems, an antiquated network of catalog distribution centers and a dearth of anything akin to merchandising panache.
     What Johnson and Francis have on their hands is a retail operation in the doldrums rather than in distress. Still, it's going to be fun to see what they do with this project.
     You see the words "Apple" and "Target" and you can't help but think: "sexy," "cool," "hip."
     Can JCPenney become sexy? Should it become sexy?
     How are they going to handle the two biggest brand exclusives to come in-house: Liz Claiborne and American Living?
     To what extent - if any - will they alter the "we are the world" structure for in-house product development and sourcing?
     Will home regain its former primacy in the JCP constellation?
     There's a lot of interesting stuff coming down the pike at retail in 2012. But for my money, JCPenney is going to be the most fascinating to watch.

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