By  on January 14, 2005

NEW YORK — Myron Ullman, J.C. Penney’s new chairman and chief executive officer, has been on the job for only 44 days, but he knows exactly what he needs to do: generate more buzz about the brand, expand Penney’s off the mall and maybe return to the beauty business in a major way.

Those were among the opportunities Ullman suggested for the 1,000-unit chain during his first meeting with investors, at a breakfast presentation Thursday at Citigroup Smith Barney, since he joined Penney’s.

Though the chain is deep into its five-year turnaround and on course to hit its earnings targets for 2004, Ullman — who is considered among retailing’s most polished, strategic and systems-oriented executives and not a merchant — did talk merchandising and marketing during his presentation. 

He was most detailed discussing himself and his successful career, having held top posts at Macy’s, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Wharf Holdings and Duty Free Shoppers, rather than specific Penney’s strategies. He said an April 18 analysts meeting will be “the appropriate time to talk about what our views are for next five years.”

Still, he hinted at what’s ahead, stating it would be “foolish not to assert ourselves” at a time when Sears and Kmart are merging and taking time to think about what they want to do.

He said Penney’s “major opportunity” is growing the top line, rather than cost-cutting, and “to make our stores more productive as we do a better job in merchandising.”

That’s particularly true in beauty.  “The traditional department store has really owned prestige beauty brands,” said Ullman, who dealt with those products at his stints at both LVMH and DFS. “We have to take a look. We have one of the biggest salon businesses in the country and we might want to think of some aspects of beauty that we don’t have in the salon.”

At Penney’s stores, “clearly, center core is not as productive. We took beauty out. There may be an opportunity.”

Penney’s has reportedly been meeting with mass cosmetics manufacturers to build the category. The company virtually bailed out of it in early 2003 when it cleared out cosmetics offerings to beef up accessories, dropped Avon’s BeComing retail brand that was in 90 stores as well as Revlon’s Ultima II, which was carried in 435 doors. Iman cosmetics and other lines also were dropped, though a small amount of fragrance, bath products and gift sets have been retained. The salons sell skin and hair care products as well as aromatherapy.

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