Amid Plummeting Sales, JC Penney Taps New CMO With 'Broad Retail Expertise'

Grebstein Led Digital Initiatives at Lowe's

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Grebstein: 'Broad expertise'
Grebstein: 'Broad expertise' Credit: JC Penney

After two months without a top marketer, JC Penney has named a new CMO. The Texas-based retailer has tapped Marci Grebstein as exec VP-chief marketing officer, filling the position left vacant by Mary Beth West, who left for Hershey in March. Grebstein, who was most recently CMO at home improvement retailer Lowe's, will join the 1,000-unit chain in June.

Marvin Ellison, CEO of JC Penney, touted Grebstein's digital capabilities and use of data. On a recent conference call, Ellison noted that the brand plans to focus on more digital and social marketing.

It's not an easy time to be an apparel marketer.

Though JC Penney has shown some improvement, it's still struggling with the same plummeting sales as its department store competitors. For the first quarter, the chain reported a 3.5% drop in same-store sales, along with revenue of $2.71 billion, a 3.6% decline over the year-earlier period. Investors fled, sending JC Penney's share price to an all-time low of $4.17 earlier this month.

"Her broad retail expertise will be invaluable as we seek to differentiate our business through strategic marketing initiatives," said Ellison in a statement.

Though Grebstein's tenure at Lowe's was brief -- she spent roughly 14 months at the company -- she was responsible for several digital initiatives, including a Facebook Live social event and long-form digital video over the holidays, meant to expand the chain's reach. In January, Grebstein left Lowe's and was replaced by former Senior VP Jocelyn Wong. Grebstein also has retail experience at Food Lion and Staples.

JC Penney, which spent $291.1 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media, plans to focus on bright spots beyond apparel like its Sephora shops, appliances and growing a business-to-business enterprise like selling bedding to hotels.

Much of JC Penney's hopes to regain shopper favor will depend on Grebstein.

"JCP failed to attract customers to its stores, especially during the early part of the quarter when traffic across the industry was weak," wrote Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, in a recent research note following first-quarter sales. "Although this trend eased toward the back end of the quarter, it underlines how important it is that JCP constantly markets itself, and communicates the changes it is making, to shoppers."

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