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J.C. Penney struggles to avoid a fate worse than the Sears scenario

Alan Treadgold, retail expert at PA Consulting, discusses US retailer J.C. Penney’s executive vacancies and business strategy.

Click here to read the full Wall Street Journal article. 

The article notes that J.C. Penney Co.’s sales are falling, its stores are stuck in malls and the turnaround strategy keeps changing. Now, three months after the  retailer hired a new chief executive, a handful of senior positions remain vacant.  Analysts and other industry experts are questioning whether Penney can avoid the fate of fellow department-store operator Sears Holdings Corp., which filed for bankruptcy and barely staved off liquidation.

The Plano, Texas-based chain was once the go-to apparel retailer for middle-class families. It and Sears had once dominated American retailing but lost their customers, first to discounters like Walmart, then to fast-fashion retailers and off-price chains like T.J. Maxx. The shift to online shopping hastened their decline. A strengthening economy brought Penney’s problems into sharper focus. It scaled back discounts and private brands, and focused on appliances at the expense of apparel. At a time when consumers have been spending, Penney posted a 3.5% decline in holiday sales and said it would close more stores, following a string of weak results.

Penney’s new CEO, Jill Soltau, joined the company late last year after Marvin Ellison left abruptly to take a new job running Lowe’s Co s. Last week, Penney disclosed it has failed to restock any of the other open positions in its executive ranks. Penney said it is searching for a chief merchant, chief customer officer and head of planning and allocation. Its principal accounting officer will leave March 31, and it is looking for a successor to its chief financial officer who left in October. Ms. Soltau told analysts on a November conference call she was still formulating her strategy.

Alan says: “There is a risk that if you change your position so regularly, customers don’t know what you stand for anymore. Penney has some serious challenges to overcome, and gaps in the senior leadership aren’t helpful to the changes they have to make.”

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