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DALLAS— J.C. Penney Co. wants to put Arizona back on Gen Y’s denim fashion map.

For fall, the Plano, Tex.-based retail giant is making an aggressive move to gain market share among shoppers aged 17 to 24 by revving up its private label denim brand’s focus on fast-turn fashion trends.

This story first appeared in the July 15, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The company said the shift will put the $950 million brand on a solid growth course.

“There’s a tremendous pressure from Generation Y to offer something that’s new, different and unique,” said Jeff Bergus, design director for Arizona, in an interview. “The brand has not really had a strong identity until now. It certainly had some cool components and neat stuff in it, but it wasn’t focused and fine-tuned. We’re changing all that and really going after the 17- to 24 year-old consumer. We’re showing them that we’re listening to what they have to say and offering them the kind of fashion that they want to wear.”

Private brands are a key part of the 1,020-unit chain’s expansion plans and account for about 40 percent of the company’s $17.7 billion in annual revenues. Penney’s executives refer to their house labels, which also include J.C. Penney Home Collection, St. John’s Bay and Delicates, as “weapons to increase business,” with sales of those brands growing at twice the company average.

To back up the new looks, Penney’s is rolling out an ad campaign this month that romances the Arizona image of blue skies, vintage cars, good friends and good times on the open road, along with a new Web site at and restyled in-store displays that accent outfits instead of items.

The broadcast ad campaign breaks July 25 — on MTV and other programs geared to teen viewers — and runs through Aug. 1 for back-to-school, with the tag line “No Matter Where You Are, You’re Always in Arizona.” Print ads are currently running in select magazines. The campaign was produced by DDB Needham in Chicago and Dallas.

Bergus said the impetus to overhaul Arizona came about after teens told Penney’s in several roundtable discussion groups that the chain was often missing the mark with the assortment and in-store presentation for the Arizona brand, which was introduced in 1988.

The focus groups made a variety of suggestions, which Penney’s has followed, including jazzing up the fashion offerings and redesigning the store environment.

“We were struggling with the brand’s ID and there was a disconnect within the Arizona store presentation,” Bergus said. “There was no consistent packaging. It seems like we changed the logo every year and branding was everywhere. Now the brand is synergized and cleaned up across all divisions — children’s, teens and home. We’re excited about what Arizona stands for and has to offer. Teens told us they wanted to be inspired on how to dress, not just shown items that were scattered throughout the department. We changed the lighting, the layout and the music, and are now playing the songs and artists teens want to hear.”

Arizona’s in-store fashion presentation now focuses on coordinated outfits instead of single items, with energetic and vibrantly colored displays and graphics, including visual collateral from the ad campaign.

Among the junior trends expected to be hot are vintage-wash boot-cut and narrow-leg jeans, poncho tops, chunky cable-knit hooded sweaters, beaded camisoles, cheerleader skirts and knit sweaters, especially Marilyn Monroe-inspired off-the-shoulder styles.

For young men, trends include deconstructed denim jeans with bleach stains and holes, Western-inspired shirts and reversible thermal tops.

“Teens want hip, cool clothing and we are offering that now with Arizona,” Bergus said. “We have a nine-member design team that travels the globe seeking out emerging trends. Generation Y shoppers are so very fickle — they want to see a new trend in the store every six to eight weeks, and we are able to deliver that with our sourcing and production capabilities.

“We’re just now kicking off the back-to-school business and we’re ahead of our sales plan. We have major momentum going with this new approach. We feel the best is yet come.”