J.C. Penney CEO Declares, 'We're Back'

Retailer Says Business Has Been Stabilized, Marketing Reinvigorated

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"There is a fine line between love and hate," J.C. Penney CMO Debra Berman told an audience of analysts and media on Wednesday.

Ms. Berman, referencing the state of the retailer when she joined 15 months ago, said consumers were "invested in that thing [they were] busy hating. ... Now, we've been able to tap this passion and turn it in J.C. Penney's favor. As a result, we're moving on."

Eighteen months after CEO Mike Ullman retook the helm of the flailing retailer from former CEO Ron Johnson, the company is seeking to communicate to Wall Street it's once again a competitor in the retail space. The retailer hosted analysts and media in New York to address the state of its business.

"We're back. We're driven. We're once again competing effectively," said Mr. Ullman, highlighting the work that's been done in recent months.

Mr. Ullman said the business has been stabilized financially; brands that resonate are back, while unproductive brands have been eliminated; marketing has been reinvigorated; and the retailer's leadership team has been strengthened.

One of Mr. Ullman's key hires has been Ms. Berman, who came on board from Kraft Foods. She has "made a huge impact," Mr. Ullman said.

Debra Berman
Debra Berman

In a brief presentation, Ms. Berman detailed the company's need to regain trust, and once it has attracted customers, ensure they keep coming back. The target customer is multi-cultural with "two little kids, too little time and too little money," Ms. Berman said.

Under Ms. Berman's watch, J.C. Penney has introduced a new tagline, "When it fits, you feel it," and added Doner to its agency roster. "Internally, we say fit is our superpower," Ms. Berman said. "When things fit, she'll slay the day."

She added that the focus on fit is part of J.C. Penney's "path back to being a lovemark."

During the retailer's most recent quarter, it reported net sales of $2.8 billion compared to $2.66 billion in the same quarter a year ago. Same-store sales increased 6% during the quarter, while online sales rose 17% to $249 million.