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J.C. Penney Redesigns to End the 'Suffering'

J.C. Penney Corp. Inc. spokeswoman Stephanie Brown did not mince words in discussing the redesign of the cataloger's Spring/Summer book.

“Our catalog business, in general, has not been performing at the level that we would like it to perform at,” she said. “The bigger picture is that, up until recently, our business has been suffering.”

Plano, TX-based J.C. Penney experienced suffering to the tune of $465 million in catalog sales for the five-week period that ended Dec. 29, a 20.1 percent drop from the comparable period the previous year. Online sales, calculated as part of the catalog sales total, fell from $65 million in December 2000 to $62 million in December 2001.

The Spring/Summer 2002 book started mailing during the holiday season with an activation date of Jan. 6.

“We have gone through a major restructuring to get our business back on track, and that included bringing in Allen Questrom, the chairman and CEO, who joined the company in September 2000,” she said. “Before that we had 1,100 different stores making their own decisions, making it tough to have a consistent merchandizing and marketing message.”

In other moves made to turn around catalog sales, the company hired John Irvin in February 2001 as senior vice president and president of catalog and Internet. He had been president/CEO of Spiegel. Bernie Feiwus, senior vice president and associate director of catalog and Internet, also joined the company in February 2001 from eRewards.com, where he served as president. Feiwus also spent 19 years at Neiman Marcus, including eight years as president/CEO of Neiman Marcus Direct.

“John and Bernie were brought in to get our business back on track. They have redesigned our big book to be more consumer-focused. We made the book more lifestyle driven so consumers can see coordinated looks. We used to present items by category, but they need to see the entire look, as it would look in their home, or in the case of clothing, on them. This redesign eliminated the need to flip pages constantly.”

Circulation for the book was 14 million, which was about 1 million less than the prior year with core customers identified as women between the ages of 35 and 49 from a dual, middle-income family.

The page count is down from 1,400 to 1,232 while the number of SKUs is five percent to 10 percent less. Apparel offerings increased “dramatically,” Brown said, while reductions were made in home offerings, including such items as bedding, bath, window treatments and vacuum cleaners.

Wallpaper and coordinating borders are some examples of eliminated items as well as the junior's assortment and children's underwear.

Last year's services and index section, which occupied 30 pages in the middle of the book, has been changed to the index & info section and consolidated to 18 pages. Changes to the section include replacing last year's seven-page index with a two-page index that resembles a table of contents with sections broken into categories.

The changes in the catalog are not intended as a quick fix.

“We have said it will take two to five years to turn the business around, which includes the total company business,” she said.

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