Why Everyone Wants Ron Johnson And JC Penney To Succeed

Everyone wants to Ron Johnson, the latest ceo at J.C. Penney company, to succeed. Johnson was snatched from Apple, to turn around the flailing J.C. Penney stores. Famously, Ron Johnson helped to create the Apple Store, hailed as the fastest retail success in history. (Apple is, truly, the miracle on 14th Street, just walk into their store in the Meat Packing district of Manhattan).

Johnson started his tenure at the century-old company by giving J.C. Penney customers a completely new pricing strategy that has been acknowledged as confusing. As a result, loyal JCP customers have stopped shopping there, and too few new customers have replaced them, despite a guest lineup including Martha Stewart Home (her contract is now in a legal dispute), Tourneau, Izod, Nanette Lepore, and more.

The new Sephora launch is gorgeous, but the store sales floors are empty, with no customers there to see it.

An exciting advertising campaign featuring Ellen Degeneres tried to raise the bar, but the campaign did not close the loop on where the company is headed. Whether that was due to the message or the messenger is undetermined.

A few weeks ago, JCP president Michael Francis (like Johnson, a Target alum) was sacrificed to the gods of sluggish retail after nine months on the job.

Still, everyone wants to see Ron Johnson succeed.

There are many reasons for this. First, his success will be one of the biggest turnarounds of the century.

Second, stockholders want Johnson to return on their investment.

Other retailers—even competitors—want Johnson’s visionary status to reveal itself with a beacon out of the splintered state of retail, into a future they either imitate or riff off of.

Vendors and partners want Ron Johnson to succeed so they can maintain their valuable relationships.

Employees want Ron Johnson to succeed so they can continue to serve customers.

Shoppers want Ron Johnson to succeed so that we can have something fresh and sparkling to be excited about. We want Johnson to do for department stores what Mario Batali’s Eataly did for grocery stores. We want Johnson to do for department stores what Smart Cars, Mini Cooper, and Prius did for automobiles. We want Johnson to do for department stores what Apple did for computers.

Finally, all of America everywhere wants Ron Johnson to succeed simply because America loves a success story.

What Ron Johnson needs to figure out before Black Friday, is how to make it all happen.

Ron Johnson has America’s Toughest Job and his mistakes are real. First, by taking away the weekly sales customers loved, Johnson abandoned his core JCP shopping enthusiasts. In effect, signaling to core JCP enthusiasts—shoppers who have sustained J.C. Penney through its years of retail muddling, that they no longer mattered. He confused them, and he pissed them off. He needs to re-engage them.

Johnson needs to jump into his data and peel back the deep-skin reasons why these zealots shop at JCP—what do they love, what do they hate, how can he keep them shopping there, so he can transition to the kind of JCP he’s trying to build, without pissing them off?

(One shopper named ex penneys shopper writes online, I wish you could have seen my credit card, I’m sure it was at least $6000.00. that’s alot of interest for jc pennies [sic] to warn [sic] monthly because I constantly found something I liked at pennies and purchased it….now, I have not made one purchase since dec,2011 and my credit card is one payment shy of being paid off. why? because there is nothing good to buy in jcpenneys anymore! you completely dumped on all your tried and true shoppers!”)

Next, Johnson has to discover his potential zealots, the next line of customers who may consider shopping at JCP if only….what? Listening to consumers is anathema in Silicon Valley, where the credo (with reason) is that consumers cannot anticipate what they need or want. But Kemmerer, Wyoming, where J.C. Penney stores got their start, is not Silicon Valley and for a department store, listening to consumers can be crucial—not how to pick out next year’s fashions (GAP tried that and failed), but to let them expound on what they do or don’t like about the experience—the same bundle that helps us prefer Starbucks and Nordstrom’s.

This is at least one way Johnson and colleagues can learn how to re-engage existing JCP zealots and maintain existing customers without flat-lining in the process.

At the same time, they must define the cross-media swathe that will engage Millennials and other fresh-minded shoppers being diverted by amazon.com, zappos.com, glitz.com, and other online retail platforms. This will also enthuse shoppers in the Town Hall boutique experience JCP revealed last week.

JCP is one of the most complex turnarounds to happen lately (happily, without taxpayer support). And the clock is ticking.

The end of summer is nearing and Black Friday—the sales day when most retailers make their year—is but 18 weeks away. President Michael Francis is out and Ron Johnson is inside, taking all responsibility. Shareholders and the JCP board of directors must be calling and sending distracting emails every day. Drama builds. Tension mounts. If success can happen here, it can happen anywhere. Everywhere.

The good news is that good news is coming. Ron Johnson has surrounded himself with the brightest and most illuminating minds in fashion, retail, marketing, merchandising, human resources, and finance, to help cross-pollinate and ladder good-better-best ideas into an architecture of superb transformation.

Black Friday is approaching. Bring it on.