DALLAS — J.C. Penney has many strengths, but effective data analysis is not among them, admitted Marvin Ellison, president and chief executive officer, speaking Thursday at the annual Retailing Summit organized by Texas A&M University’s Center for Retailing Studies.
“We spent a ton of time in the last few years focused on the art of the business,” Ellison told the audience in the Westin Galleria Dallas. “The problem is that we’re not good in the science, and we have to get a lot better.”
Then, he projected a slide listing Penney’s weaknesses, including assortment planning, supply-chain efficiency, pricing analytics, customer data and analytics, data processing and e-commerce.
“It is no accident that some of the most recent additions to our team have been a chief marketing officer who has 30 years of experience and deeply understands customer analytics,” Ellison said, also citing recent executive hires of an omnichannel ombudsman, a supply chain guru and a head of customer data and analytics.
Private brands are a key strength buttressed by global sourcing relationships and an in-house design team that Ellison dubbed “underutilized.” The ceo described Penney’s best assets as the in-store Sephora and Disney shops, 800 in-store hair salons that are being rebranded as InStyle, and strong presentations of Modern Bride fine jewelry and Levi Strauss.
His overarching strategy is to achieve success through simplicity.
“Clarity of purpose and simplicity tend to drive higher productivity and easier execution,” Ellison emphasized.
He began his talk by explaining that he grew up in a big, poor family that had to “scrape and scrap for everything.” He began his retail career in 1987 earning $4.35 an hour as a security officer for Target, attaining a bachelor’s degree while working. When he left the company 15 years later, Ellison was corporate director of assets protection.
Addressing the students in attendance, Ellison said, “There’s nothing special about me. Whatever your dreams are, you can do it.”