At J.C. Penney, the approach to back-to-school is anything but academic.
Next month, in a concerted and aggressive push to become hipper and shore up some merchandise holes, the chain will roll out and market four new exclusive youth-oriented brands — in juniors, private label Decree, as well as exclusive brands Fabulosity, Le Tigre, and in young men's, American Living. The company will also start selling WhiteTag in young men's.
Juniors, along with accessories, dresses and contemporary apparel, is among the few clothing categories Continued from page one that hasn't cracked under the weight of the poor economy. It's a $1 billion-plus business at Penney's and a standout there for several years. Last year, juniors posted the best gains at the Dallas-based department store chain, and did well through Christmas.
Penney's quotes statistics from NPD, the Port Washington, N.Y., market research firm, indicating the retailer has the nation's biggest market share in junior denim, and the third biggest share of the junior market overall, behind Kohl's, the industry leader, and Macy's.
"We are looking at building on our strength," Liz Sweney, Penney's executive vice president of women's, said in an exclusive interview. "Juniors is a significant growth opportunity.
"The goal is not to be third," Sweney added. "The goal is to surpass those players out there."
Asked if Penney's ever unfurled five labels in the same season, Sweney replied: "I've been at Penney's for eight-and-a-half years and in my time, we've never done it."
For Penney's to sustain its momentum in juniors, the marketing is critical, and becomes increasingly challenging, considering the greater complexity of the offering and the need to make the messaging clear so each label projects its own character and brand image. Penney's declined to provide details of the marketing campaign, which is being planned, or how juniors is faring after last year's success. With the product development and marketing organizations in high gear, it's clear the team is anxious to score big again, though the pressure is on, considering that comparisons will be tough against last year's store gains and this year's deteriorating retail climate.
They are conditions far from ideal for such a major rollout of new lines, given declining same-store sales at many retailers, spiraling gas and food prices and rising unemployment. Myron "Mike" Ullman, Penney's chairman and chief executive officer, has described the retail environment as among the worst he's seen in his 35-year career. Of course, executives and analysts have said newness is the key to grabbing market share in good or bad times.According to some analysts, Penney's also needs to capture more of the cool factor that certain specialty chains have, notably Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister. "It's tough for J.C. Penney to be edgy enough to catch the fickle junior consumer," said Russell Jones, a director at restructuring and advisory firm Alix Partners, which recently conducted a consumer survey on shopping preferences. "They are always interested in being cool, and cool is usually associated with something new that hasn't been on the landscape forever."
"We're seeing that the junior market is becoming increasingly influenced by value and fashion. [Juniors] want both," said Marie Driscoll, director of Standard & Poor's retail equity research, noting that Penney's offers these things. "The only thing that J.C. Penney doesn't have to the same degree as the vertical brands in the mall is the coolness factor, but definitely their denim is cool."
Even though juniors has less discretionary income than when the economy was better and there were more part-time jobs, the market remains very brand driven, Driscoll said. However, she added that Penney's could be getting some, but not many, shoppers who are trading down from specialty players in the mall.
B-t-s at Penney's officially kicks off July 10. That's when Fabulosity, Decree and WhiteTag, along with the young men's component of American Living, developed by the Global Brand Concepts division at Polo Ralph Lauren, will be set on the selling floors. Le Tigre has been in Penney's stores since April, and the retailer has begun selling American Living in the men's, women's, home and children's categories. The season runs through Labor Day.
In terms of volume, "back-to-school is not more important than Christmas. But it's a core competency at Penney's, and a very important part of the year — probably more so than typical department store competitors," Sweney said.
The upcoming b-t-s program, said John Tighe, Penney's vice president for juniors, represents "an evolution of what's been going on for years" at the chain rather than a strategic shift. "We have a very good teen junior business, and strong market share."
For juniors, Penney's has adapted its three-year-old merchandising approach targeting four lifestyles: conservative, traditional, modern and trendy, and three price tiers: good, better, best. It's designed to fill voids in the assortments and already has been implemented extensively in the women's and home areas."It's a very, very strategic methodology to determine what brands we need in our assortment," Sweney said.
Penney's juniors department now targets four lifestyles, which are:
- All-American, considered the lifestyle with the widest appeal and driven by denim, fashion knits, fleece and sweaters. The key brands are The Original Arizona Jean Company, Levi's, Flirtitude, C7P...A Chip and Pepper Production, Le Tigre, which is owned by Kenneth Cole Productions, and Decree.
- Fast Track, for trendy fashion denim and "conversational" prints, represented by Fang, Underground Soul, Self Esteem and Vigoss.
- Dressy/Going Out, for evening and work clothes, including dressy separates for special occasions and the brands B Wear, Tracy Evans, Heart and Soul and Star City.
- Urban, which targets fashionable hip-hop styles including Southpole and Fabulosity by Kimora Lee Simmons.
"A few years ago, we were really 'Mom's store,'" Sweney said. "But with all the initiatives over the last few years, we are becoming much more relevant. Many teens really look to us. They might shop the mall to come up with style ideas and then she comes to Penney's to get style with great prices. We are [no longer] Mom's store. We are very relevant to the teen style."
According to Penney's executives, where teens go, adults follow. "Through our research, we found out how influential the teen is in the household. Teens today are much more influential on the spending than ever....They're really style advisers for their family," said Tighe.
What's critical to making juniors click is the production cycle and flowing the goods in so there's constant newness. Penney's says its production cycle time in juniors, from the time the goods are designed to when the customer can first buy them, has been reduced to 17 weeks from 52 weeks three-and-a-half years ago. Also, there's an improved flow, with key items coming in weekly.
Decree will be the lead label in the juniors department, and could be among the top brands at Penney's, with Arizona expected to maintain its top position as the biggest in-house label.While Arizona is collegiate, preppy and item-oriented, Decree will offer layering, feminine details and a greater sense of individual style and outfitting. Decree will fall into Penney's better tier, with prices from $18 for a tank top to $38 for a five-pocket pair of jeans and $85 for outerwear. There also will be a separate Decree "accessory zone" to round out the outfitting, as well as signature fixtures, denim tables, lifestyle graphics and a platform of three mannequins. "It's a full teenage-girl brand, head-to-toe," Sweney said.
Fabulosity takes a more opulent, urban and evening approach, with a lot of gold looks and animal prints, and T-shirts, knit tops, sweaters, jeans, skirts, dresses, hoodies, jackets and outerwear. With items ranging from $29 to $108, Fabulosity falls into the retailer's best pricing tier. There also will be huge pictures of Kimora Lee Simmons, the celebrity behind the label.
Penney's perception of teens, which executives point out is based on research, seems more Richie Cunningham than James Dean. "The most interesting thing about teens is that they are really very close to their parents," Tighe said. "Seventy five percent like to do things with their parents, and kids want to succeed. They are very much into being successful. There isn't a rush to disassociate from their parents."
Ken Hicks, Penney's president and chief merchandising officer, takes the point of view one step further. "Teens have always been a cornerstone of our business," he said. "And they are emerging as today's key influencers of purchase decisions made by their family."
In yet another fashion show shuffle, @elleryland is moving its show in sync with the Paris couture calendar — though the brand is still keeping one foot on the city’s ready-to-wear schedule. Their runway show in January will coincide with the launch of a new strategy: designing two main collections each year instead of four, which will then be released in four drops. “As we all know, the system needs to change. We need to show sooner to give time back to artisans and designers to do what they do best — create,” said founder Kym Ellery. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
@maxmara’s classic 101801 coat was the cornerstone of its pre-fall 2018 collection. The design team expanded the traditional double-breasted, kimono-sleeved style into a trapeze coat, lean belted styles and a peacoat and presented them in monochromatic looks – like the camel one pictured here. #wwdfashion #prefall18 (📷: George Chinsee)
The @cfda has shifted the dates of #NYFW, with Men’s showing on February 5 through February 7, and Women’s will directly follow, running from February 8 through 14. The preliminary schedule will be released on the CFDA’s web site in the next few days, but Mark Beckham, VP of marketing for the CFDA, revealed that @rafsimons will be back to close the men’s-specific part of the week with a show on February 7 #wwdfashion (📷: Kelly Taub)
@ferragamo is introducing a new space dedicated to the development of women’s and men’s leather good samples. The laboratory, which is created eco-friendly materials and designed to reduce the environmental impact of the manufacturing processes, will allow the company to expand its accessories offering through traditional artisanal approaches. #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
How does a “regular, degular, schmegular” girl from the Bronx, N.Y., become a Grammy-nominated artist with a certified platinum record in less than a year? Call it the @iamcardib come up. The 25-year-old has become a musical sensation, and the fashion world is taking note. “If I could describe her style I would say drama. She’s really into the dramatics,” says Cardi B’s stylist @kollincarter. See how Carter styles her bold and out there looks with the link in bio. #wwdfashion
“There is no formula. There is no guideline. I can watch Ted Talks all day, but there is no one who can advise me on exactly what it is I should be doing,” said @ronniefieg, CEO of @kith, in an interview with WWD’s @ariahughes at the brand’s new SoHo office in Manhattan. Head to WWD.com to see how Fieg went from hanging out in shoe stockrooms at 13 to building his own business. #wwdfashion (📷: @weston.wells)
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion