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Jennifer Marks

Here We Go

Jennifer MarksJennifer Marks Editor-in-chief
EVITES WENT OUT LAST WEEK for JCPenney's annual presentation to analysts - the event at which new ceo Ron Johnson has promised to lay out his vision for the company.
     The minimalistic invitation itself signaled a break in style. It featured a powder blue sky dappled with a few cumulus clouds and the words: "in praise of fresh air ... click here."
     The click-through leads to the same image and an invitation from Johnson: "Please join me as we unveil our plans to create America's favorite store."
     I suspect "fresh air" may become Johnson's answer to "Think Different," the mantra of his former employer, Apple. And I wouldn't be surprised if "America's favorite store" turns up down the road as JCPenney's new tag line.
     What's seemingly at odds with the expectations raised by this forward-thinking, transformational marketing tease is the three exclusive brand initiatives announced in recent months across home and other categories: Royal Velvet, Liz Claiborne and Martha Stewart. One industry player opined that it all sounds very May Company circa 1990.
     We'll see. Of course, there's every possibility Johnson can bring some of the magic dust he used developing Apple's retail operation to make the Stewart shop-in-shops breathtakingly original and interactive. Royal Velvet at one time was all about color - and Apple certainly knew how to make color cool.
     As of last week, we now have another potential transformer to watch: Ron Boire, Sears Holding's new chief merchandising officer and president. His executive path includes major roles at Brookstone, Toys "R" Us and Sony.
I've been told he's a good guy who knows his stuff. The question is whether company chairman Eddie Lampert - who has shown himself averse to investing in physical stores - will let him do his stuff. Let's hope.
     There are a lot of promising things happening out there. Several suppliers are broadening their scope and many manufacturers are expanding their capacities again. May this be a year that brings good things to them all.

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