Home décor an essential part of JCPenney repositioning, says exec

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Home decor sells well online for JCPenney.

NEW YORK—Home décor is in JCPenney’s sights as the mid-market department store tries to reposition itself, expand its design aesthetic and better serve its customers, who remain loyal to the brand and willing to point out what they expect from it.

Kevin McGhee, the retailer’s vice president and divisional merchandise manager for home, spoke about the importance of home décor and other categories in a long-ranging conversation with industry journalist Warren Shoulberg during last week’s Gift & Home Trade Association virtual conference.

Having emerged from bankruptcy late last year and now under the ownership of Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management, JCPenney is working to re-establish its primacy in the home department.

“JCPenney has always been a powerhouse in home, but to be honest we had lost our way a little bit. And it’s important for us to get that back,” chief merchant Michelle Wlazlo told Shoulberg in a recent interview for sister publication Home Textiles Today.

McGhee, who has been with the retailer since the 1980s, said, “We’ve had missteps over the years. We have an incredibly loyal customer base that has stuck with us. We’ve listened to the customer to guide us in rebuilding assortments. They told us our looks were getting pretty similar, mostly traditional.”

JCPenney is addressing that white space by expanding its design aesthetic through the launch of new private label brands and the revival of dormant ones. It has brought back Linden Street, a successful private brand that it let wither.

“Linden is a good brand with a strong, relaxed aesthetic, so we rebuilt it,” McGhee said during the conference last week. “We’ve taken it into hard goods and we will expand it into décor, tabletop [and other categories]. The customer response has been really good. We expect Linden Street to be a very good brand in home.”

Loom + Forge, meanwhile, addresses the more modern customer. “Clearly there was a customer base we were not serving,” McGhee said. “We have some refining to do. This style has not been our strength. That just takes a little bit of time, to find the right value proposition. But the most tempting thing is that when [the customer] walks into the store, she can have a classic look, a modern look, whatever she needs. We’re much better positioned to do that now.”

National brands are also an important part of the mix, according to McGhee, who said he seeks true partnerships with vendors, rather than “transactional” ones. “There are so many challenges facing manufacturers and retailers … having good, solid relationships usually allows us to mitigate and navigate better together.”

JCPenney, whose jumbo catalog was once a mainstay in American homes, was an early innovator in the e-commerce space, an area in which it knows it needs to thrive, McGhee said. Noting its catalog roots, he said the company “had BOPIS before it was called BOPIS.”

“It’s in our DNA. We know how to do this. We are back in the game and taking this as seriously as we should be.”

Product photography and content on the website are much improved, he said, and it has better navigation and more detailed analytics to help its merchants deliver a more powerful business.

Gift and home décor are a big part of that online business, McGhee said. “We want to be a complete home store. We have to offer the décor, the entertaining, the things to rack out for home. The thing with décor is, it’s something she [the customer] can swap out more frequently than a sofa.”

JCPenney’s online home décor sales have been really strong, McGhee said, “numbers well beyond ’18 or ’19.”

“I look at the assortment, the photography, the way it’s been put together onsite, and it’s very inviting. The metrics and the conversions are exciting. We’ve learned a lot.

“[The JCPenney customer] has stuck with us. She really has. Our customer has been tremendously loyal. When we make mistakes, she lets us know. And when we do the right thing, she lets us know.”

 



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