NEW YORK — J.C. Penney Co. is scaling back and stepping up this year to navigate the recession.

The $20 billion chain is reducing store openings to 36, from 50, leading to a savings of $200 million in capital expenditures, Myron C. Ullman 3rd, chairman and chief executive officer, said Tuesday night during a dinner speech to analysts at the Mandarin Hotel here. There will be 20 major store renovations, down from the 65 originally planned, and the company is “moderating” the inventory buy, which is generally purchased four to nine months ahead of the selling season, Ullman said.

However, the retailer plans to accelerate product innovation as a key part of a “bridge plan” to get back on its “trajectory to accomplish long-range goals,” Ullman said.

Experiences with recent higher-priced private label offerings, notably the Ambrielle lingerie, has encouraged the company to “enhance the brand attributes of Penney’s power brands,” he said. With the Worthington and Stafford private labels, “We are currently working on brand enhancements,” which involves higher-quality products commanding higher prices.

This week, the retailer announced the launch of the Decree private brand for the junior departments for back-to-school. In addition, Kimora Lee Simmons’ Fabulousity junior sportswear collection is launching exclusively at Penney’s for b-t-s.

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