Ron Johnson: Going to JCPenney was a big mistake

LAS VEGAS – Ron Johnson has a new business, and it's different in just about every way from his last gig as the beleaguered CEO of JCPenney. Enjoy sells, delivers and connects shoppers to electronics. 

During a "fireside chat" at ShopTalk with CNBC's Courtney Reagan, Johnson described why his new venture is set up to succeed, and why he was doomed to fail at JCPenney.

Enjoy is a personal commerce platform that sells electronics and then delivers them for free at a precise time to any location requested – an office, apartment, even a city park. Each purchase comes with an hour with an expert, not just to set up the technology, but to become familiar with it and form a relationship with Enjoy.

Johnson likens the business to Soul Cycle, where a customer can go online and pick a class, choose a bike and instructor, and pay, all before arriving. "[It's] an experience with a whole new way to get exercise," he said. "An experience that starts digitally."
Enjoy has raised $80 million to fund the venture, and Johnson expects to be profitable by this fall. His past at JCPenney hasn't hurt his efforts to grow Enjoy, quite the opposite.

"If you're an investor, you want someone who has failed, because they don't like the taste of it," he said. Still, he is applying the lessons learned at JCPenney, where he tried to change too many things, too quickly.

"We went too fast," he said. "I constantly remember that lesson – don't get over your skis."

Slow is how he plans to grow Enjoy. Now in San Francisco, the platform will soon begin rolling out to 10 new markets.

"Nothing good happens overnight," said Johnson, noting that it was years between the first Michael Graves collection for Target to the retailer cementing its reputation as Tarjay, the purveyor of cheap chic. Johnson worked for Target at the time and was one of the architects of this branding.

But JCPenney was a different matter. "The biggest mistake I ever made was going to JCPenney," he said. "It was a really bad decision for everybody. I was a square peg in a round hole."

Johnson arrived at JCPenney full of ideas and under the impression that people would want change. But instead, he found a culture comfortable with its retail role and resistant to change.

"I had this confidence that the right side would win and they would get on board, but that turned out to be a mistake," Johnson said. "I had too many people fighting [me] all the time. When you do a startup, you hire people one at a time."

Each new employee at Enjoy is hand-picked by Johnson.

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