Posts Tagged 'JCPenney'

Department stores expand off-price concepts

Macy’s reported in its year-end earnings call that it plans to expand its Backstage off-price concept to 100 more stores this year. (And Backstage is located inside existing Macy’s locations.) Here’s what I had to say on RetailWire about the wisdom of this trend:

There is a big difference between what Nordstrom and Kohl’s are doing (building out freestanding Rack and Off/Aisle stores) and what Macy’s is attempting by locating its Backstage concept inside its full-line stores. Either way, department stores are jumping on the off-price bandwagon because it’s a hot segment with the “treasure hunt” experience that some shoppers are looking for. But at what point does the segment get overcrowded?

Macy’s may feel strongly enough about Backstage to roll it into more locations, but from my experience it does nothing to enhance the overall store “brand.” (Bob is dead-on regarding the housekeeping.) And the merchandise content is not compelling, since Macy’s “upstairs” brands feel safer dealing with TJX than having their goods show up in Backstage. From what I’ve observed, there is a lot of closeout product from brands that you might find at JCP or Kohl’s but not on the main floor of Macy’s.


Can Macy’s claim a turnaround?

Today’s RetailWire panel focused on Macy’s 2017 holiday results, where they reported a 1% gain for the season. Despite the optimism of their executive chairman Terry Lundgren, most panelists agree with me that the celebration is premature:

As the article points out, Macy’s comp sales of 1 percent paled in comparison to J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, in a season where brick-and-mortar retailers did better than expected. So they actually lost market share during a robust shopping season, and probably ran behind in their physical stores if you assume that most of their growth came from e-commerce.

It’s hard to point out much good news in these numbers, other than being “less bad” than year-to-date. The large number of store closures doesn’t appear to have driven sales to remaining locations, and the jury is still out on the wisdom of the Backstage store-within-a-store strategy. In this panelist’s opinion, it does little to enhance the brand image of the rest of the store.

Can JCP be a player in toys?

JCPenney recently announced an expansion of its toy business, in time for holiday 2017 selling. RetailWire panelists weighed in on the topic, and here’s my take:

Toys are a double-edged sword for softlines retailers like Penney and Kohl’s who want to strengthen their children’s offerings. It’s hard to avoid carrying toys, but it’s also hard to compete against the dominant space of the discounters and big-box stores. (Not to mention the low margins.) Customers have come to expect the best selection and prices from market leaders like Amazon, Walmart and Target.

The broader risk to JCP is that it becomes a “bunch of stuff” with the addition of new categories (from appliances to toys, from bikes to electronics). Just because the store has square footage to burn doesn’t mean that overassortment is a winning long-term play.

Sears opens appliance/mattress stores

RetailWire panelists discussed Sears’ plans to open stores specializing in nothing but major appliances and mattresses. While this may have been a solid strategy 20 years ago, count me as a skeptic given Sears’ issues today:

It’s hard to picture anything solving the Sears problem at this point. The company just announced the closure of a mall anchor here in Milwaukee (after closing another anchor over a year ago), leaving it with just one full-line store here. I’m sure the story is being duplicated around the country, at the same time that Sears has been closing (not opening) appliance-only franchise stores.

Sears’ legitimate franchise in appliances is evaporating as it continues to shrink its footprint and sell off its key brand (like Kenmore). The appliance space is crowded with competitors, now including major investments by Amazon and JCPenney. And who needs another place to buy mattresses, especially given the growth of online sales?

JCP pursues B2B opportunities

Here’s a new RetailWire comment on Penney’s announcement that it is going after B2B opportunities with hotel operators, property developers, etc. to place its home goods in these kinds of facilities. It’s another example of CEO Marvin Ellison taking a page from his Home Depot playbook:

I’d be less concerned about the borrowings from Home Depot if I didn’t see improvements on the softlines side happening at the same time. There’s evidence (at least to these eyes) that the new merchant team at JCP is making some headway especially in women’s apparel, where the assortments and brand identity look crisper than they have for awhile.

That being said, the B2B initiative is a puzzle to me. Penney may see it as a volume opportunity — and a branding opportunity to place its private-label home goods inside hotel rooms, etc. But will hotel operators and franchisees be interested in dealing with a middleman, if they already source their linens and towels through the buying power of brands like Hilton, Marriott, etc.?

Who gains when HHGregg loses?

Among several other stores closings announced in 2017, the regional electronics and appliance chain HHGregg may have flown under the radar. It did come to the attention of RetailWire panelists like me:

Best Buy will benefit, naturally, in those markets where HHGregg had a store footprint and market share. There are significant clusters of stores around Chicago, in the mid-Atlantic and mid-South (including Atlanta) and in Florida. But don’t expect it to compare to the demise of Circuit City — not only because HHGregg isn’t a national competitor but also because of the changing retail landscape.

Another retailer that might gain share is JCPenney, as it pushes into the major appliance business. Keep an eye on the big home improvement chains, too; this is one business that hasn’t been dominated by Amazon (yet).

JCP: Too early to declare victory

JCP’s CEO recently declared that its (slight) 2016 profit repreesented an historic turnaround. Most RetailWire panelists agreed with my contrary view:

It’s admirable that JCP has stopped bleeding cash but its net earnings in 2016 were just over $1 million (not the EBITDA number, which was higher). So it’s premature to declare an historic victory in light of store closings and soft sales. The slippage in gross margin in 2016 is another area of concern, because competition won’t be any easier in 2017.

With those reservations in mind, Mr. Ellison has had his eye on the ball ever since assuming the CEO chair and continues to focus on the right things — data science, expense controls, driving sales opportunities and weeding out unproductive locations.