Ok, I admit it, my presence as CEO of JC Penny’s has been difficult. Employee morale is at an epic low, customers who used to love JCP don’t come into the store anymore, and we’ve lost a lot of money. I mean a shitload of money. Just this last fiscal year we lost $958 million buckaroonis! I don’t even know how I still have a job. I’m not really all that worried about it, though, since if I get fired I’ll get like $20 million bucks or something, which is a lot more than all the JCP employees I’ve laid off got. Suckers!
A lot of people have been saying that I’ve been a failure for JCP. They’re wrong, though, people. Just because all my ideas so far about how to revitalize JCP have failed doesn’t mean that the rest of my plan will fail, too. Or maybe it does. I don’t know anymore. I thought I had it all figured out but I guess I didn’t really understand the middle-class consumer.
See, it was easier at Apple. At Apple, we basically sold a product that wasn’t any better than a PC, but we showed people how hip it was and charged 3 times as much and they still line up around the block to get the new IPad. That’s what I call success. We based that success on Design and The Illusion of Better Quality.
That was the consumer I wanted. The hipsters with disposable income who I could fool into thinking that they were getting a better product. And gosh-darnit, if I couldn’t get that consumer, I would create that consumer. Those millions of people who loved JCP how it was just needed to be educated into being the type of consumers they were meant to be.
Sure, my wife and I never shop at JC Penney. I mean, when you are a millionaire, your wife wants Fendi purses, not Liz Claiborne! Even so, I figured that I could understand what drove the middle-class consumers and convince them to pay more for the same product just like I had at Apple. Just think of how much money JCP would have made if my plan had worked.
The first thing I did was eliminate coupons. Coupons are so…proletariat. I wanted to get those ladies off their coupon habit. Hip women don’t use coupons and I was going to make these people hip. Hip women go into the store and see what they want and say to themselves, yeah, that’s a fair price, that’s a cool, hip thing, and they buy it. No redeeming this little slip of paper to get $10 off or 15% off. Apple didn’t take coupons and look at all the money we made there. Plus, how could ten dollars matter to them so much anyway? I mean, I make like $10 a second or every other second or something like that. They were going to have to learn to live without their coupons.
The next thing I did was start my Fair and Square pricing. I thought it would appeal to these ladies. OK, then, you want a good price and don’t have your coupon to use? Well then, this shirt here is $15 dollars. That’s how much it should cost. And why should it cost that much? Because I’m Ron Johnson and I’m way fucking smarter than you, that’s why! Maybe you used to get it for $10 on clearance and then use your 15% off coupon, but those were the old days. I can make a lot more money on shirts if I sell them at $15 than if I am giving them away at $8.50.
So my next step was to convince these ladies that the shirt that they used to get for $8.50 was now worth $15. To do that, I had to make it appear that it was worth more, since of course it wasn’t really worth more. I thought that if I could just make the store seem like a cooler place to shop that the consumer would believe it was worth more. I have great ideas! I do! I’m going to put coffee shops in JCP and little boutiques but in the meantime I just moved out most of the product in the stores. When there is less to choose from, stuff seems more valuable. Those boutiques my wife drags me into aren’t crammed full of stuff. No. They have like five things to choose from.
JCP used to be crammed full of stuff, but not anymore! Now I could drive my Aston Martin through the aisles. I thought this was a really good idea. I did. Showcase the items. I guess I just hadn’t taken into account how other big retailers like Wal-Mart (puke-ola) make their money by volume. They move a lot of product and make a little bit of money off each thing that they sell. That’s how JCP made its money before. But this is the new world, people! Do you really want to function like Wal-Mart and not Apple? I mean, which is cooler, really.
I figured that the JCP customers were middle class because they were dumb, but it turned out that having to get by on so little had actually made them pretty smart about what was a good deal and what wasn’t. This is why they are different consumers than Apple customers. My biggest failure was not realizing this. Did I use the word “failure”? My plans at JCP aren’t a failure! They just need a little tweaking. See, it’s all about changing your perception! A few sentences ago it was a failure and now it’s just a “change in direction.” How easy was that!
I had a great plan. I did. I still don’t understand why all these shoppers started going to other stores. JCP was cool now. Do you want to save money or be part of the cool crowd? Losers.
I guess maybe I should have done a test run of my ideas in a couple states before I took this change nationwide, but it’s too late now. When you believe in yourself as much as I do, there’s no need for test markets because you just know that your ideas will work. Except that there’s just the little fact that they didn’t.
But they will, folks, by golly they will.
That’s what I’ve been saying all along, and if you say something enough, eventually people start to believe it.
Unless they are a middle-class consumer. I guess it takes more brains to make ends meet nowadays than I thought it did. Maybe these folks couldn’t be outsmarted after all.
Not yet, at least. Give me another year or two. I’ll make it work.
Not the real Ron Johnson,
also known as M. Jarrett Wilson,
author of Edge Play X and former JCP Shopper