Sunday, November 11, 2012

Can JC Penny Be TOO Cool?

Most men, myself included, rate shopping pretty low on the things they like to do. Sure, hardware stores, maybe if your a gardener, the nursery, us geeks like Best Buy, the Apple Store and increasingly the Internet, but to go shopping at Penny's, well, only when the wife throws out the clothes you've had since college and gives you the choice, "You buy or I will." That's something sure to send a chill to the average man's blood.

If you have never been to a Nordstrom's, Coach or even an Apple store, it's certainly a treat. In sections all over the store, items for sale are tastefully displayed. A few items are on each rack, wide aisles and sales staff there to help you yet without being insistent. The Apple Store is even better. Table after table is loaded with computers, iPads, iPhone, even the latest iPods (remember those) are there for you to play with. What's even better, you have speedy Internet connections and many programs that you really want to use are there on their products. How sweet is that? Couple with the "genius's" throughout the store and the Genius Bar to take your item, and they have created an empire that sells more dollars per square foot and any other retailer on earth.

About a year ago, the stumbling J.C. Penny lured the Apple store genius away to become their CEO and revamp a tired, over 100 year retailer. It had been slowly losing profitability and the realization of the board was if they cut the prices anymore, why stay in business? Penny's was a confusing collection of sales on top of sales and then when you got there, there were even more discounts. Only fools EVER bought something at retail. Hence Ron Johnson's attempt to remake this company. Not only a new look, but very stable and simplified pricing.

I went through Penny's today with my wife, I guess my first visit in several years. WOW! What a change. I have read some of the comments online, mostly NOT flattering but I found that prices were fair, easy to find and I didn't have to wait for a sale that was inevitable in the old days. Items were tastefully shown, the aisles were not so close, it was bright and cheerful, racks were not bulging so that after the first two looks, you moved on. Maybe its too masculine? My wife was certainly sold on their new look.

I wonder what the kind of shopper prefers shopping at Sears (surely one of the most depressing experiences ever in modern retailing) to this? Considering that Sears has one of highest cost of sales and slowly declining sales, who is their customer?

Design, the way we experience the things of our lives, is everywhere. The cars we drive, the furniture we buy, even the house we bought compared to the one we didn't, someone at some time had to make design choices that we have to live with every single day the object is ours.

I had a boss once who told me that quality is discernible even to the not sophisticated. He said, take the markings off a Chevy and a Mercedes and show them to 10 people and have them tell you which was the item with the highest quality. Eight of ten would chose the Mercedes. And he's right. We may not be able to define quality, but we sure can spot it.

Don't settle. Don't be lured by just pricing. Why not support stores that offer good value, an enjoyable shopping experience, that treat you as a guest to their establishment not just another number. Life is too short to just exist. Make the journey tasteful along the way.


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