A few weeks ago, I saw an article in The Wall Street Journal that caught my eye for a number of reasons. The headline said “JCPenney’s CEO Is Done Chasing New Customers. ‘We Are Loving Those Who Love Us.’” That’s a bold statement for a 120-year-old company that filed for Chapter 11 just two years ago. But it’s also the statement of a Challenger Brand that understands how those chasing the category leaders have to go to battle. Now there’s word that the owners of JCP are offering to purchase archrival Kohl’s for $6.8 billion.
As the CEO of the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a 30-year resident of Dallas/Fort Worth, home to JCPenney’s headquarters, I want them to succeed. What remains to be seen is whether what the new JCPenney says is congruent with what it does. I hope it is. It’s the only hope they have to survive.
When a leader becomes a challenger.
JCPenney is one of the legendary stories in retail. Originally founded as The Golden Rule by James Cash Penney in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1902, the department store forerunner began selling textiles and sundries to those moving westward in the early 20th Century. Over time, Penney developed a reputation for selling quality clothing at affordable prices and, in 1913, the company was renamed for the founder.
Unlike countless others that tried and failed, JCPenney survived the Great Depression and two World Wars, hitting its stride in the 1970s with more than 1,600 locations across the country.