It was the biggest story in the retail world last week when JCPenney announced it had hired Ron Johnson as its new CEO with the incoming executive vowing to transform the way America shops by reinventing the department store. Such statements normally elicit a yawn because they are so common, but Johnson is the former SVP retail at Apple and spent the past 11 years overseeing the development and growth of the company’s wildly successful and widely heralded retail operation.
Largely overlooked in the hysteria over his hiring – shares of JCP surged $4.93 the day the news was announced – was the fact that Johnson spent 15 years at Target prior to joining Apple, last serving as a VP merchandising. According to JCPenney, Johnson held a variety of merchandising positions including men’s and women’s apparel and accessories, children’s and home. He is most noted for launching and leading the design initiative at Target, which began with the Michael Graves collection for home and included several other key brands, according to JC.Penney, a company that has also pursued a designer exclusive approach to merchandising.
It is the experienced Johnson gained at Target that will be most valuable at JCPenney since his experience at Apple was colored by some developments that were enough to make a mediocre operator look like a hero. No disrespect intended to Johnson’s capabilities or the role he played in developing the unique Apple store atmosphere and customer service culture, but without the phenomenal products Apple brought to market during his tenure the customer service and culture in stores would have mattered about as much as they did at Circuit City.
Johnson gets his chance to reinvent JCPenney on Nov. 1 when he takes over for outgoing CEO Mike Ulman, who will fully retire early next year when Johnson also becomes chairman. Johnson is sure to bring with him fresh ideas about how to accelerate growth at JCPenney’s 1,106 stores and some of those initiatives are sure to have an impact on Target as there is considerable overlap in the company’s product offerings especially in apparel and home and increasingly beauty, as JCPenney now operates roughly 250 Sephora beauty departments in its stores.