PENNEYS FOR MOMS: JC Penney has rotated through three CEOs in the last seven years – that’s near-record for CEO turnover. With each CEO came a new and different strategy for getting Penney’s back on track in the retail arena. (In full disclosure, I have to admit that I haven’t visited a Penney store in years, but I have certainly followed its many management circumlocutions of recent years.)
Marvin Ellison left the CEO post in May to return to his old stomping grounds of home improvement. The Penney board of directors created an “Office of the CEO” upon his departure to run the company until a replacement could be found. They are seeking someone with extensive experience in apparel, as that category accounts for more than half of the company’s annual sales, and the board would very much like to reinvent the store that was known for many years as “dressing middle America.” To that end, they aren’t specifically abandoning the favorite focus of Ellison, which was trying to attract millennials to the store, but instead are adding the new focus on middle-aged Moms. Frankly, that seems like the place where they should have spent their time all along. But I’ve noticed, in all sorts of business circles and in professional organizations, also, that there is a tendency to jump to try to involve millennials in an effort to solve downturn problems. Several years ago, I was the President of a professional organization for psychologists – psychologists in management, specifically. And, my mouth absolutely dropped when members of the board, noting our organization’s dropping enrollments over the years – think baby boomers and their retirements – suggested that we recruit millennials. What? Millennials would have had to have acquired a PhD and had several years of management experience to be a member of our organization. But, it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to suggest that “we need to recruit the young” to replace those retiring. How about recruiting those who have the professional experience and talent – but that might actually require some work and effort! The same will likely be true of recruiting Moms to be customers at Penney stores – Moms, having been ignored by Penney’s for several years, have probably identified with other favorite stores who have had the good sense to cater to them. A recent example and case-in-point, is the experience of a friend of mine who went into a local Target store to look for specific items not found other places in town. And, she was amazed at the gushing attention (appropriately gushing, I should add) that was paid to her by the store clerk assisting her in locating the items. I would say that Penney’s should take a page from that book, and, if they truly want to turn their stores’ fates around, then train their store clerks to be as welcoming and helpful as the clerk at their competitor. Good luck to Penney company – A turnaround does, indeed, start with the front-line employees – as I point out in some detail in my book, VALUE PLUS: EMPLOYEES AS VALUERS.