Myron Ullman Returns to J.C. Penney, Switchs Up Retail Strategy

The last three months have seen J.C. Penney backtrack on many of the dramatic changes it instituted under CEO Ron Johnson.

April 6, 2018

3 Min Read

In 2010, the then-CEO of J.C. Penney, Myron E. Ullman III, announced an ambitious plan to increase the company's revenue by $5 billion in four years. He certainly couldn't have seen the twists and turns the company would take in the interim, including his own resignation and subsequent reinstatement.

The last three months have seen the retailer backtrack on many of the dramatic changes it instituted under chief executive officer Ron Johnson (who held his post for 18 months) and wage a legal battle with Macy's over the rights to Martha Stewart-branded home goods.

Johnson, known for creating the Apple Store, made short work of instituting a complete makeover of the retailer. His changes included the institution of a new floor model that featured branded in-store shops, the elimination of the company's sales and coupons in lieu of lower prices across the board and a new brand identity complete with refreshed logo and the shortened moniker JCP.

Ultimately, though, the changes failed to take. For fiscal 2012 (ended Feb. 2.), JCP reported a decline in revenue of 24.8 percent to $12.9 billion, a decline of 25.2 percent in comp store sales and a net loss of $985 million.

Johnson resigned in April and was replaced by his predecessor, Ullman, who swiftly announced that the company would borrow $850 million from its revolving credit facility to fund a turnaround.

While JCP has brought back its sales and coupons for the moment, the retailer is continuing with its branded shops strategy. The company rolled out its revamped home department and a new jewelry department–the Bijoux Bar–in April.

The home department faced troubles of its own when Macy's challenged JCP's right to sell Martha Stewart home goods, saying that the planned shops infringed on its own license with the brand.

The legal battle was resolved in April, with a judge ruling that JCP could sell the $100 million of disputed goods they had already manufactured, but not under the Stewart brand. The Stewart-designed products will be sold under the JCP Everyday banner.

No word yet on Ullman's future plans for the retailer, but if the about-faces of the last few months are any indication, his approach will likely be more conservative.

"While J.C. Penney has faced a difficult period, its legacy as a leader in American retailing is an asset that can be built upon and leveraged," he said. "To that end, my plan is to immediately engage with the company's customers, team members, vendors and shareholders to understand their needs, views and insights. With that knowledge, I will work with the leadership team and the board to develop and clearly articulate a game plan to establish a foundation for future success."

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