How JCPenney Strikes the Right Merchandise Mix

Department stores may be experiencing a rough patch, but Plano, Texas-based J.C. Penney Co. is getting a solid boost from footwear.

Shoes ranked among the company’s top-performing categories in the most recent quarter, and the September launch of men’s footwear under retired NFL great Michael Strahan’s label further pumped up the business.

“Launching a shoe line with JCPenney is the perfect complement to my suit collection,” said Strahan, referring to his tailored clothing line, which debuted at JCP stores in fall 2015. “I wear a suit almost every day, and it’s important to have comfortable, stylish shoes to finish my look.”

Private label brands such as Strahan’s have contributed to strong numbers, according to Jodie Johnson, SVP for intimates, footwear, handbags and fashion accessories. “The bulk of our fashion business is done in private brands,” said Johnson, noting that roughly 8 percent of the company’s overall business is generated from footwear and handbags.

While the national retailer offers a strong private-label men’s selection, it also remains committed to its branded business, with merchandise from Nunn Bush and Stacy Adams, Johnson added.

“We’re glad to see [JCPenney’s] business bounce back over the last couple of years,” said John Florsheim, president of Weyco Group, which produces the two aforementioned brands. “We’ve had steady growth, including double-digit with the rollout of their new open [sell] format.”

Here, Johnson talks about luring the fashion customer, partnering with “Good Morning America” co-host Strahan and the power of private label.

How important is private label versus branded footwear for the store?

JJ: We do a great private brand business. We have premier brands such as Liz Claiborne and Stafford. But we also have our true private brands such as a.n.a., Worthington and Arizona that we offer from a fashion perspective. We [also] offer Xersion, our athletic private brand, as well as big athletic brands such as Nike, Converse and Adidas.

Why the decision to partner with Michael Strahan?

JJ: He was interested in starting a clothing line, and we were looking for an exclusive partnership. He’s also great at promoting his brand. [The collection] was inspired by his daily lifestyle. We started with suits in fall ’15 and launched an athleisure line in spring 2016. The shoe collection was a natural extension of both — a mix of dress and casual.

Michael Strahan JCPenney
TV personality Michael Strahan launches men’s shoes at JCPenney.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

What are JCPenney’s top branded footwear labels?

JJ: In men’s, we carry Nunn Bush, Dockers, Stacy Adams [as well as] core national brands. On the women’s side, in top doors we have some smaller brands such as CL by Chinese Laundry. [However], the bulk of what we do in women’s is our private and exclusive brands.

What’s JCPenney’s sweet spot for pricing its footwear?

JJ: We adhere to [minimum advertised pricing] with Nike and other brands. But for our private brands, we sit in that $39.99-and-under offering, [with the exception] of boots. In national brands, we’re [on par] with our key competitors that carry those brands.

Who is JCPenney’s target footwear customer?

JJ: We target what we call MAM — modern American mom. [She] doesn’t have a lot of time. We respect her pocketbook and hone in on creating an experience that gives her value and makes everything worth her time. We [also] have a varied [customer] because we’re a department store.

How does JCPenney attract young female shoppers today?

JJ: For footwear, we’ve been pleased with where that number sits. I think everyone wants more millennials and more of the junior customer. Between our Arizona brand and Pop — an exclusive [brand] — we try to service that customer and keep very relevant fashion on the floor. In addition, we carry [fashion looks] from Nike, Converse and Adidas

How does JCPenney effectively tackle the competition?

JJ: We do lots of research and are constantly on the internet. We also have a trend department that looks at every level of business [in order] to get the right [product] balance and assortment. We don’t hone in on any one target since we have a unique proposition we’re trying to build and aren’t [trying to] mimic any one thing. By using our private brands, we ward off some competitive issues that could happen in today’s dot.com world.

What are the store’s biggest opportunities and challenges in footwear going forward?

JJ: Our biggest opportunity is staying relevant and bringing the right fashion for the customer. We have an advantage in understanding the value proposition for our customer and how we can navigate bringing her fashion while giving her prices that are compelling. Also, one of the things we did in 2015 was remap a bunch of our stores in the way we service our customer. Our men’s and kids’ shoe departments are completely open sell. Our women’s shoe department is a combination of open sell and service in our larger stores and completely open sell in our smaller stores.

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