business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There is a really good piece by retail futurist Doug Stephens in Business of Fashion that recalls Ron Johnson’s aborted attempt to re-engineer the economics and culture at JC Penney. Stephens argues that while Johnson’s approach to change management may have been ill-conceived, he understood something important and essentially true - that “in order for the new JCPenney to be born, the old JCPenney had to die. In order to pump oxygen into an entirely new era of department store retailing, he would have to once and for all turn off the respirator that was keeping this old brand barely alive.”

It was, Stephens suggests, an approach that almost had to fail since customers, shareholders and JC Penney’s board didn’t “have the stomach for what Johnson would ultimately have to do in order to revive the ailing retailer.”

He goes on: “It’s six years later and a similar malaise poisons the broader retail industry. Everyone is talking about the need for disruption, innovation and change, yet most stop well short of actually doing anything about it. Many retail brands talk about game-changing innovation but what we see are lukewarm iterations of existing concepts and old ideas. Retailers, it seems, lack the will or sense of urgency to effect significant and radical change.” And Stephens writes that too many retailers and even pundits believe that while there’s a lot of tumult in retailing, “the sky isn’t falling and we need not be overly concerned.”

Stephens believes that there are fundamental and revolutionary changes taking place in retail, and argues that “until we let go of the old era we can never fully move forward into a bright new age. If we really want to save retail, we’ve got to let it die.”

It is a really good piece that you should read here. And it definitely is an Eye-Opener.

(BTW…extra credit for readers who get the movie reference in the headline.)
KC's View: