New strategy, pricing on display at JC Penney

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — During her 26 years in retail, Sherry Frisby said she’s never seen anything like it.
J.C. Penney launched an ambitious new strategy Wednesday that offers a three-tier pricing structure and does away with coupons, discounts and doorbusters.
“We don’t even use the word ‘sale’ anymore,” said Frisby, who has managed the Salisbury store for a year and a half. “We are not going to make customers jump through hoops.”
Most items in the store are now priced in red, indicating “everyday” prices that are about 40 percent lower than 2011’s retail prices without coupons or weekend sales.
On the first day of every month, the store will reveal items priced in white, indicating “month-long values.”
On the first and third Fridays, the store will retag clearance and seasonal items in blue, indicating “best price.”
“Ultimately, we want to be America’s favorite store,” Frisby said. “That’s our vision.”
J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson announced the “Fair and Square” pricing strategy last week, saying it will lure customers into the store year-round instead of only during sales or promotions.
Customers at the Salisbury Mall had mixed reactions to the new prices.
“It’s wonderful,” said Kolisha Sheffield of Huntersville. “But I love J.C. Penney, so I would shop here regardless.”
Sisters Carla Ramsey and Lisa Taylor of Salisbury said they thought the new pricing was less complicated and confusing, not to mention cheaper.
“The prices have really come down,” Ramsey said as she shopped for jewelry.
But Cheryl Cook, visiting from Troutman, wasn’t a fan.
“I honestly didn’t see anything to scream about,” she said.
Jessica Bledsoe said if J.C. Penney’s prices weren’t so low, she wouldn’t be able to afford new clothes for her children — three triplets in high school and another daughter in college.
“I’m buying all that, so I guess they’re good,” said Bledsoe, pointing to a pile of brightly colored tops.
Employees prefer the new pricing structure, as well as the no-hassles return policy, Frisby said.
“For them, it makes pricing easier and they can dedicate more time to customer service,” she said. “They don’t have to be running around changing signs and worrying about coupons.”
The 110-year-old department store chain pledges to take back any item, anytime, anywhere.
“Associates are empowered to take care of customers,” Frisby said.
Forty-eight people work at the Salisbury store, including four full-time employees.
Johnson said in an interview with the Associated Press that J.C. Penney’s No. 1 competitor was not another store or the Internet, but “ourselves and our way of thinking.”
An innovative retail leader, Johnson came to J.C. Penney from Apple, where he pioneered the company’s successful retail stores. He worked for Target for 15 years, helping to develop the company’s image as a cheap chic discounter.
On the job at J.C. Penney for three months, Johnson told the AP, “I didn’t come here to improve. I came here to transform.”
Before Johnson developed Fair and Square pricing, about three-quarters of everything sold at J.C. Penney was marked down 50 percent from list price. Johnson has said he thought customers were insulted by department stores’ usual strategy of offering items at high prices, then offering discounts.
Johnson’s strategy has been called dramatic and risky.
The new approach includes changes inside the store, including less clutter, more space between racks, no more tables in the aisles and 70 percent fewer signs.
The store also plans to create 80 to 100 highly-branded “stores within a store,” such as Martha Stewart and Liz Claiborne boutiques.
J.C. Penney has a new logo with “jcp” written in white on a blue field, located at the top left corner of a red square. The logo resembles an American flag and echoes the store’s new patriotic theme.
“The logo honors J.C. Penney’s American heritage while connecting with customers’ hearts in a vibrant and vital way,” a press release said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

J.C. Penney — a family operation
J.C. Penney has been a family business for Sherry Frisby, who manages the Salisbury store.
She and her husband, Russ Frisby, met while both working at a J.C. Penney store in Wisconsin. Russ Frisby recently retired from managing the custom decorating department for J.C. Penney in Statesville.
Their son also worked at the store in Statesville while attending college.
Sherry Frisby came to the Salisbury store about a year and a half ago from the Winston-Salem location. In all, she has worked for the department chain for 26 years.
With new changes launched Wednesday, Frisby said J.C. Penney is trying to return to its roots as America’s favorite store. “I’m really excited,” she said.