JCPenney's Johnson Out, Ullman Back—What Now?

What happens next at JCPenney (NYSE:JCP), after the 1,100-store chain fired CEO Ron Johnson on Monday (April 8) and replaced him with the CEO that Johnson replaced, Mike Ullman? The retailer isn't saying. But many of the internal changes Johnson instituted at JCPenney are effectively irreversible, including remodeling all the chain's stores and replacing much of the chain's IT capability. That money is already spent.

Johnson had already reversed many of his decisions that were the most unpopular with shoppers—including his elimination of sales, discount pricing (including "mark up to mark down") and coupons. There's no chance those policies would return under Ullman.

Other Johnson initiatives are more likely to survive under new management. The shops-within-the-store modeled on existing Sephora boutiques? Very likely to survive, especially since Ullman actually created them during his previous tenure as JCPenney CEO. The chain has already installed some additional shops, including Levi's and Joe Fresh, and has signed deals with other brands. The Sephora shops were already bringing in much higher than average sales per square foot by the time Johnson arrived.

Ullman, who led JCPenney for seven years before he retired in 2011, also gave a green light to testing item-level RFID tagging for inventory control under his previous watch, and at that time the chain was already looking into the in-aisle POS approach that's being rolled out in all JCPenney stores this month.

That suggests Ullman and Johnson aren't nearly so far apart in their ideas and approaches (leaving aside Johnson's no-sales-or-coupons fiasco, of course). The biggest practical difference may be that Ullman wasn't able to get the board to cough up budgets for his ideas, while golden-boy Johnson could get all the money he wanted—at least at the beginning.

For more:

- See this WSJ story
- See this Businessweek story
- See this Reuters story 
- See the MorningNewsBeat story

Related stories:

At JCPenney, Everybody Gets A POS iPod In March
JCPenney's RFID Reversal Guts In-Aisle Checkout
JCPenney CIO Decides: No RFID For Checkout