Ron Johnson, the CEO of JCPenney, understands branding and the value it represents. The following article is worthy on its own, but three key takeaways:

1.  Creativity – looking at the business differently – is the starting point of success.

2.  Experience is the core issue – not product.

3.  Develop a mission that you and your staff will believe in.

From The Hub magazine:

“Improvement merely lets you hit your numbers … Creativity is what transforms,” says JCPenney ceo Ron Johnson in a Fortune profile by Jennifer Reingold (3/19/12). That was the main lesson Ron says he learned while he was at Target, after gambling on introducing Michael Graves designer products in a big way. “The math was simple,” says Ron. “If I didn’t sell one piece but people looked differently at the other 96% of products we’d win. It’s always about mind share, not market share.” Ron is now bringing a similar sensibility — which of course he also brought to Apple stores — to JCPenney.

The essential vision, once again, is to create “a place where the experience (is) as important as the products themselves.” This apparently was more Ron’s vision at Apple stores than it was Steve Jobs’s. “He said it’d be a store for creative professionals,” says Ron. “I said, ‘Well, then I’m not coming. If you want it to be a store for all Americans, sign me up.” Ron also “persuaded Jobs to nix commissions for salespeople, arguing that they should give customers the best advice, not the advice that earns them the most.” Ron says, “You can motivate by a mission or motivate by money… the mission will work.”

It certainly worked at Apple stores, where sales per square foot average $6,000. But will it work at JCPenney, where sales per square foot are currently $146 and the shopping experience is a safe distance from either Apple or Target? Fitch, the ratings agency, has “downgraded the company’s debt to junk level,” based on Ron’s strategy, the core of which is a “return to the company’s original values,” espoused by founder James Cash Penney as a “morally upright place.” Ron Johnson, eternally an optimist, says his plan will work. “What you can’t do is chicken out,” he says. “If you had looked at the data on the Genius Bar after a year and a half, we should have taken it out of the store… There’s no reason to sell an idea short. The only risk would be to not fulfill the dream.”

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