Back in the 1970s my late father, an Arkansas-born retail lumber company manager, told me, proudly, “Penney’s is my store.” There wasn’t a hint of irony in it, though even back then the hipoisie had long since spurned Penney’s as hopelessly “square” (for lack of a better word). Recently, however, Apple store whiz kid Ron Johnson has swooped in from California with a major-league salary ($53M or so) and grand plans to transform this seeming relic of a bygone era into “America’s favorite store” because … Well, just because he’s Ron Johnson, I guess.
But, Penney’s is still a strong brand in Middle America! its backers insist. So what does Johnson do right off the bat? He oversees a very aggressive marketing campaign with an in-your-face gay theme, even though, in retrospect, Middle America probably was the last place that would look kindly on such a campaign. He announces he’s scrapping the store’s longtime pricing structure and implementing a simpler one. I’ve read the details of this new structure several times, however, and it seems even more confusing than the original. In the wake of such moves Penney’s sales have sagged, like its stock price, and Johnson has just given his new president the boot.
Such foul-ups aside, has it ever occurred to anyone that some stores and brands simply outlive their relevance, regardless of who’s running them? I haven’t heard anyone say, “Penney’s is my store,” in a long, long time.