JCPenney's Back-To-School Turnaround Depends On A Ron Johnson Hire

JCPenney (NYSE:JCP) really needs a back-to-school turnaround after last year's free-haircuts fiasco—and the executive in charge of turning around ex-CEO Ron Johnson's mistakes was hired by Johnson himself, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The retailer's senior VP for the children's department, Betsy Schumacher, was hired a year ago this week, just as it was becoming clear Johnson's merchandising ideas weren't clicking with customers. So this year, free kids' haircuts are out—now they'll cost $10. The haircuts didn't bring customers into the stores or they'd be back again, Schumacher said.

Instead, the struggling 1,100-store chain will offer $25 prescription eyeglasses for kids age 16 and under. School uniforms, a huge business for Penney's, will get more space and attention. Plus-size girls' apparel will be in the same department with girls' regular sizes, at the suggestion of customers that Schumacher has talked with. There will also be a separate department for sizes 1 to 6, with merchandise for toddlers and preschoolers. Canadian brand Joe Fresh, which Johnson brought in for a shop-within-the-store, is now in children's.

It probably doesn't hurt Schumacher's back-to-school focus that she has nine-year-old triplets. What will help Penney's more is the fact that she's making short trips to hit 15 stores at a time around the country, making sure the in-store mix is right. "It's one thing to see it on paper, but it's better to see it in person," she told the newspaper.

Retail analyst firm NPD Group expects back-to-school sales to be up 3 percent from a year ago, and shoppers surveyed said they expect to spend more at department and specialty stores this year. But that won't help JCPenney if it hasn't convinced shoppers to return to its stores after Johnson's no-sales-no-coupons approach drove them out. Now that sales and coupons are back, back-to-school is Penney's first big test.

For more:

- See this Dallas Morning News story

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