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How JCPenney’s new CEO successfully rehabbed an old brand

JCPenney has cut staff, cut out coupons, cut the height of shelves, and anchored stores with a glamorous Sephora counter – if you haven’t seen the new “Fair and Square,” it just might inspire your own business to pivot.



JCPenney has gone Fair and Square

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]JCPenney’s new CEO is the brains behind the Apple Genius bar, and JCP is getting that streamlined flavor Apple is so well known for.[/ba-pullquote]In February of this year, JCPenney took a different approach to their whole marketing program; they call it Fair and Square pricing. What is to be said for the whole marketing program and reprogramming that has been underway for JCPenney for the last quarter? The new Fair and Square Pricing program goes well beyond the rounded to whole dollars pricing system, there were cuts made to prices across the board and no more coupons. Yep. I said it. No more JCPenney coupons for the staff to track.

In the past, where the company’s marketing division would send out circulars and newspaper advertisements with over five-hundred coupon options in a year- SHAZAM! That is a ton of coupons for people to try to make sure were valid and usable… confusing even to the staff, let alone the customers. Fair and Square Pricing was going to be the end to the confusion, and a few other things…

Clearing out the clutter

With the end of coupon clipping at JCP also came the end of many managers’ jobs. The elimination of non-crucial jobs meant bringing on staff to properly train the remaining employees on the new outlook, promotions and mindset of the JCP vision. Clearing out the clutter so-to-speak, not only in the over staffing, but also in the look and presentation of the visual merchandising. To take a peek in the new store is to take a look at the company’s new dossier, likely penned by their new leader, former Senior Vice President of Retail Operations for Apple, Inc., Ron Johnson.

Getting back to their roots

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]”On every visit, customers will discover straightforward Fair and Square Pricing, month-long promotions that are in sync with the rhythm of their lives, exceptionally curated merchandise, artful presentation, and unmatched customer service.”[/ba-pullquote]”Over 110 years ago, James Cash Penney founded his company on the principle of treating customers the way he wanted to be treated himself: fair and square. Today, rooted in its rich heritage, J. C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE: JCP) is re-imagining every aspect of its business in order to reclaim its birthright and become America’s favorite store.

The Company is transforming the way it does business and remaking the customer experience across its 1,100 jcpenney stores and on On every visit, customers will discover straightforward Fair and Square Pricing, month-long promotions that are in sync with the rhythm of their lives, exceptionally curated merchandise, artful presentation, and unmatched customer service.”

Follow the leader

JCP may be on its way to something pretty interesting with the leadership if Johnson, the brilliant mind behind the Apple Genius bar. We can call him the Genius behind the Apple Store itself… we’ll call that a win for Apple. How about his amazing record sales profits when he captained the ship for The Gap? Impressive, yes… but with JCP, there was much to be done… Coupons, staffing, merchandising, marketing- just to name a few.

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]”with lowered stock shelves to clear the visual line throughout the store, the shelves have less merchandise cluttering them, making the store feel a lot less like it is going to fall in on you.”[/ba-pullquote]With the new streamlined look of the JCP stores, with lowered stock shelves to clear the visual line throughout the store, the shelves have less merchandise cluttering them, making the store feel a lot less like it is going to fall in on you. In December, during Christmas time, when many of the bustling seasonal staffers were there piling and piling merchandise onto the floor, armed with their ticketing guns and coupon guides, there was a totally different feel.

Did I mention there are no more pricing guns used? Just people and their dexterous little fingers. Eliminate the cost of the pricing guns and just show people how to stick stickers in a uniform way. Simple. Now, most stores have a perfectly centered Sephora chain (smooth move, JCP) to anchor the stores, and hip music and calming, more zen like visuals, JCP is certainly changing the direction of their store and at a fast pace.

Now that is fair and square

[ba-pullquote align=”right”]No more ninety-nine cents behind the decimal point.[/ba-pullquote]No more ninety-nine cents behind the decimal point, JCP has changed the way people are going to view their pricing system. They may have had to do some cut backs to get a staff that is more streamlined and more highly trained in their mission and product line, but if they are going in a direction that takes people away from fishing for coupons and having direct product pricing, a store that is efficient for the staff, and effective for theft deterrence due to the open, airy nature, the profitability will more than likely go up.

Taking notes from his Scion, the Apple Store and Target, Ron Johnson is likely to lead JCP back to their fair and square roots. People seem to like it.

Genevieve Concannon is one of those multifaceted individuals who brings business savvy, creativity and conscientiousness to the table in real estate and social media.  Genevieve takes marketing and sustainability in a fresh direction- cultivating some fun and funky grass roots branding and marketing strategies that set her and Arbour Realtyapart from the masses. Always herself and ready to help others understand sustainability in building a home or a business, Genevieve brings a new way to look at marketing yourself in the world of real estate and green building- because she's lived it and breathed it and played in the sand piles with the big-boys.  If you weren't aware, Genevieve is a sustainability nerd, a ghost writer and the event hostess with the mostess in NoVa. 

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  1. Roland Estrada

    May 30, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Coming from Apple roots is not a guarantee of success but it sure helps. The mantra at Apple is SIMPLICITY. As quoted from the book on Apples guiding principles, Insanely Simple – “Complexity is easy, simplicity is hard work”. Ron Johnson still has some hard work ahead of him but he is certainly on the right track. Don’t confuse people with to much information.
    On a similar note, Tony Fadell the “father of the iPod”, started Nest. Fadell thought the thermostat need to be updated and simplified. And to that end, he succeeded. By the way, a Nest thermostat should be the closing gift you give your buyers. They will remember your for it. And when friends and family ask your buyers, “what’s that cool thing on your wall?”,  your buyers will say, “my agent gave me that” Priceless!!

  2. AgentGenius

    May 30, 2012 at 11:45 am

    think long term strategy.

  3. Genevieve Concannon

    May 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Correct…the idea is that this is just a launch pad for a different direction of JCP. Apple isn’t a guarantee of success- but certainly a nice platform for this company to take note from. The simplification is what most modern Americans are looking for right now- in everything for their lifestyle. Johnson and his team are currently achieving that for their brand and I want for people to think about how they can simplify things for themselves. The folks who haven’t been to JCP in a few years are taking a second look and liking the new facade.

  4. Roland Estrada

    May 30, 2012 at 6:45 pm

     @Greg Saunders  I saw those reports. The goal was not just to keep old customers but to attract new ones. JCP was not going to turn the tide right away and their current direction makes sense. There current sales strategy I think helps them get a better grasp in inventory management . Take RIM for example. They are sitting on roughly 1Billion dollars in unsold inventory. That’s a huge headache. 

  5. TheRetailDoctor

    May 31, 2012 at 10:09 am

    You have to be kidding me! “Successfully rehabbed an old brand?” This is a very flawed execution of this makeover by Ron Johnson. As I wrote last week, “Do You Need a J.C. Penney Drug Intervention?”  after addicting their customers to coupons for generations and then going cold turkey … what were they thinking? Now they’re back peddaling to add more Friday promotions.
    J.C. Penney stakeholders needed to be involved in all of this and a thoughtful regionalized trial of the “great makeover” before whole-scale upending of a brand. Now that they have cut jobs, commissions, and apparently their resolve, how much better off are they?

    • Genevieve Concannon

      May 31, 2012 at 10:16 am

       @TheRetailDoctor Thanks so much for your comments! You make a good point about the coupon clipping; however, the 500 coupon deals in a year, which got quite confusing for the staff to follow may be something to run with here. Only time will tell…

  6. Roland Estrada

    May 31, 2012 at 10:41 am

     @TheRetailDoctor I’m going to actually bookmark this page and put in a calendar event for a year from now to come back and remark I was right. The rebrand will work. JCP will make up the customer loss with new customers that may not have shopped the brand before. Coupon clippers are not the only game in town. That is a fact. 
    As for the shareholders, They don’t seem to have helped much in previous years. Part of cost cutting sometimes involves cutting jobs. It isn’t pretty but that’s the way it is. Lastly, in situations like this you need a leader with a singular vision that everyone else follows. If they don’t like it, get out! 

    • TheRetailDoctor

      May 31, 2012 at 11:13 am

       @Roland Estrada  @TheRetailDoctor You do that. The loyal have been torched over these changes and the backlash building. Singular vision is shakey to those outside the silo. Have a nice day.

      • Roland Estrada

        May 31, 2012 at 11:25 am

         @TheRetailDoctor No problem. I like a nice healthy debate. And if I’m wrong, I’ll come back and admit it. Here’s to a great year everywhere. We could all use it. 

      • mg76206

        June 1, 2012 at 11:13 am

        I’m in the Silos and was brought in after the “old timers” were let go. You should change your user name to delusion 2.

    • courtneychelene

      May 31, 2012 at 11:21 am

       @Roland Estrada  @TheRetailDoctor  Everyone IS getting out- mostly the customers.  It seems you are just as delusional as the author of the article.

      • Genevieve Concannon

        May 31, 2012 at 12:18 pm

         @courtneychelene  @Roland Estrada  @TheRetailDoctor Thanks, Courtney. Super nice.

  7. courtneychelene

    May 31, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I just wanted to ask the writer of this article- are you delusional?  Do you stick your head in the sand and not watch the news?  Clearly, you did NO research when you wrote this article.  jcpenney’s sales have taken a nosedive…right off a cliff.  The strategy is NOT working, and as an employee there, I know it.  Maybe you like it more because it’s more “glamorous” and “pretty”, but the rest of America does not agree.  In addition, having less stock is not “streamlining”, and neither is cutting out essential managers’ jobs.  You just used pretty terms to describe a very ugly thing.  Stock shelves are empty because there is NO ONE there to stock them.  Departments are a mess because the managers of those departments were fired, and there is no one there to plan the sets.  The catalog and customer service departments have been eliminated, leaving cashiers with little-to-no knowledge of these matters to handle everything.  The stores in general are a mess.  It has not worked in the slightest, not even a little bit.  What a joke of an article.

    • Genevieve Concannon

      May 31, 2012 at 12:23 pm

       @courtneychelene I actually spoke with multiple that I know who do work there- they don’t necessarily like the way that the changes are going- because no one likes change, especially when they have worked there for 20+ years and they see other staff leave. That is tough. That is always tough no matter what industry you are in. I have seen layoffs first hand and it is frightening. Of course, then I read the reviews from the quarterly notes and understand these things take time… People are looking for simplicity and streamlining in marketing these days. That is all this article is saying. Each store is different. Thanks for your notes- delusional. No. Hopeful for them, yes.

      • mg76206

        June 1, 2012 at 11:09 am

        Have you been writing about or working in this industry. Delusional is a word that describes this writers ideas perfectly. Did JCP contract you to write this article?

  8. Tinu

    December 26, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    In the short term, the rebrand may be problematic. But Is this the first quarter since they were completely on the new system? I’ve shopped JCP 6 times in as many months, seeing the previous incarnation as too low class. (Where I have no problem shopping at Target, but have almost a physical sickness if I have to go into Walmart, lol). Will have to take a look at the numbers myself — even if the change was too late to prevent or delay a once looming death, at least they went down fighting.

  9. agbenn

    December 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    @Tinu:disqus One thing has become universal lately at Pennys and that is hearing “omg that’s so cute” their new lines for Jrs and petites are improving dramatically, and I base this observation on my 15yo and others in our company. I think they’re on the right track, just think they they drop the JC and go with Penny’s

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Business News

Leadership versus management: What’s the difference?

(Business News) The two terms, leadership and management, are often used interchangeably, but there are substantial differences; let’s explore them.



leadership Startups meeting led by Black woman.

Some people use the terms “leader” and “manager” interchangeably, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, there is still a debate regarding their similarities or differences.

Is it merely a matter of preference, or are there cut and dry differences that define each term?

Ronald E. Riggio, professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, described what he felt to be the difference between the terms, noting the commonality in the distinction of “leadership” versus “management” was that leaders tend to engage in the “higher” functions of running an organization, while managers handle the more mundane tasks.

However, Riggio believes it is only a matter of semantics because successful and effective leaders and managers must do the same things. They must set the standard for followers and the organization, be willing to motivate and encourage, develop good working relationships with followers, be a positive role model, and motivate their team to achieve goals.

He states that there is a history explaining the difference between the two terms: business schools and “management” departments adopted the term “manager” because the prevailing view was that managers were in charge.

They were still seen as “professional workers with critical roles and responsibilities to help the organization succeed, but leadership was mostly not in the everyday vocabulary of management scholars.”

Leadership on the other hand, derived from organizational psychologists and sociologists who were interested in the various roles across all types of groups.

So, “leader” became the term to define someone who played a key role in “group decision making and setting direction and tone for the group. For psychologists, manager was a profession, not a key role in a group.”

When their research began to merge with business school settings, they brought the term “leadership” with them, but the terms continued to be used to mean different things.

The short answer, according to Riggio is no, not really; simply because leaders and managers need the same skills to be productive and respected.

This editorial was first published here in June of 2014.

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Business News

Does Raising Cane’s have the secret to combatting restaurant labor shortages?

(NEWS) Fried Chicken Franchise, Raising Cane’s, has turned to an unusual source of front-line employees during the labor shortage- Their executives!



White paper sign with black text reading "Help Wanted."

I wouldn’t call myself a fried chicken aficionado or anything, but since chains are designed to blow up everywhere, I have experienced Raising Cane’s.

I’m pretty sure the Cane’s sauce is just barbecue mixed with ranch, but hey, when you’ve got a good idea, keep with it.

In the further pursuit of good ideas, the company has resorted to an intriguing method of boosting staff in a world where the lowest paid among us are still steadily dying of Covid, and/or choosing to peace out of jobs that they don’t find worth the infection risk.

Via Nation Restaurant News: “This is obviously a very tough time, so it was a joint idea of everybody volunteering together to go out there and be recruiters, fry cooks and cashiers —whatever it takes,” said AJ Kumaran, co-CEO and chief operating officer for the Baton Rouge, La.-based quick-service company, from a restaurant in Las Vegas, where he had deployed himself.”

The goal of this volunteer mission, which involves 250 of the 500 executives deployed working directly in service roles, is to bolster locations until 10,000 new hires can be made in both existing locations and locations planned to open.

It’s obvious that this is a bandaid move – execs exist for good reason, and in terms of sheer numbers (not to mention location and salary changes), this is hardly tenable long-term. But I can say this as someone who’s gone from retail to office, and back (and then forth…and then back again) several times – if this doesn’t keep everyone at the corporate level humble, and much more mindful of employees’ needs, nothing will.

The fast-food world is notorious for wonky schedules only going up a day before the week begins, broken promises on hours (both over and under), horrendous pay, and little to no defense of employee dignity in the face of customers with rank dispositions. With the wave of strikes (Nabisco, John Deere, IATSE) making the news, and lack of hazard pay/brutal physical attacks over mask mandates still very fresh in workers’ minds, smart companies are hipping themselves to the fact that “low level” employee acquisition and retention needs to be much more than the ‘work here or starve’ tactics that have served since the beginning of decades of wage stagnation. The best way for that fact to stay front-of-mind is to go out and live the truths behind it.

In Raising Cane’s case, the company also announced that they’re upping wages at all locations — to the tune of an actually not totally insulting $2 per hour, resulting in a starting wage of $15 and a managerial wage of $18.

Ideally, paying people more to cook, clean, and customer service all in one job will actually attract people back to fast food work. Seriously consider the fact that the people cleaning fast-food toilets are the same people making the food that goes into your mouth. The additional fact is that it’s better for everyone’s health when they’re paid enough to care about what they’re doing and stay healthy themselves.

Of course, one does also need to consider how much inflation has affected the price of goods and housing since the ‘fight for $15’ began almost a decade ago in 2012. Now, raising wages closer to the end point of multiple goods still might not be enough!

AJ Kumaran continued, “The chicken prices are through the roof. Logistics are very hard. Shipping is difficult. Simple things cups and paper napkins — everything is in shortage right now. Some are overseas suppliers and others domestic suppliers. Just in poultry alone, we have taken significant inflation.”

That’s global disruption for ya.

It remains to be seen whether this plucky move can save Raising Cane’s dark meat, but I’m very pro regardless. Send more top-earning employees into the trenches! No more executives with 0 knowledge of how the sausage sandwich gets made.

No more leading from behind.

Why not? What are ya? Chicken?

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.



Woman working in office with remote team

Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

This story was first published in November 2020.

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