Another Vestige of Johnson-Era JCPenney Ends

JCPenneyPlano, TX—Another top executive brought into JCPenney during the tenure of ousted CEO Ron Johnson has left. What’s more, her departure marks end to another one of Johnson’s “strategies” in the “transformation” the department store chain.

According to the Dallas Morning News report today, JCPenney confirmed that Laurie Beja Miller, executive vice president, had departed the company.

Miller, who had worked on special retail projects at Apple, Nike, Disney and Pottery Barn, was hired in April 2012 by Johnson to develop “The Square” concept. Much like his concept of turning JCPenney into a street of shops-within-a-store, The Square was to be modeled after a town square. Miller is the latest in a long list of executives who “left” the retailer since Johnson’s ouster.

While the concept remained a bit nebulous, Johnson referred to it as a place where “America’s families” gathered to do more than just shop—“able to have fun experiences and offer a range of useful services.” Others called it a “Genius Bar”-like concept like the one Johnson developed for Apple.

Since Johnson’s departure in early April, JCPenney under its returning CEO Mike Ullman has continued to open some of the Johnson-era shops, such as Joe Fresh and the new home store, as well as reviving some of the store’s own brands that Johnson had jettisoned.

Department Stores: ‘Not a Business for Half-Witted Strategies’

One idea that also has been jettisoned is The Square, according to a spokesperson for JCPenney.

On a recent blog at the Harvard Business Review, Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and author of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, argues that JCPenney didn’t have a real strategy under Johnson—and still doesn’t.

“I have argued elsewhere, strategy is, in fact, a coherent set of choices about where-to-play (WTP) and how-to-win (HTW) and, if that WTP and HTW is significantly different than the current one, a credible path for getting from the present to the targeted state,” Martin maintained.

“Under Johnson, JCP had nothing even vaguely resembling a worthwhile strategy and its path to get to where it wished was comically disastrous. JCP had a plan for betterment and not winning—one of the most common mistakes in ‘strategy.’ Johnson’s ‘new JCP’ boutiques, which were meant to exemplify what the whole JCP would eventually look like, had merchandise in them that some customers found somewhat compelling some of the time.”

Although Johnson’s new shops reportedly performed well, they highlighted even more what was “wrong” with the rest of the store, turning off longtime customers as well as the “new” customers buying from the shops, Martin said.

In its present condition, JCPenney doesn’t just need an Ullman who can “execute” a back-to-basics approach, Martin said.

“Just as it needed two, five or ten years ago, JCP needs a strategy,” Martin wrote. “It needs to decide where it is going to play—with what set of shoppers, in what range of merchandise, through what physical and digital spaces. And it needs to decide how is it going to provide a superior value proposition to competitive alternatives in that chosen space. This is a tough task. The department store business is a brutal one. This is not a business in which half-witted strategies can be profitable.”

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Jeff Prine

Jeff Prine, Editor at Large, Accessories Magazine
Jeff returns as a regular contributor to Accessories magazine. Initially Jeff worked as senior editor at Accessories more than 20 years ago and his love of the industry has followed him until present. Since his tenure here, Jeff has continued to report jewelry, watch and other luxury goods trends as executive editor at Modern Jeweler magazine, fashion director at Lustre, and as contributor on products and trends for consumer and trade publications and websites. In addition to his editorial experience, Jeff also served as an adjunct instructor for accessories merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology. jeffp@busjour.com