Wednesday, April 10, 2013

1159 The Ghost in the Boardroom

1159 The Ghost in the Boardroom

A couple of years ago, the ghost of mid-price marketing genius James Cash Penney was having one of those terrible and depressing days that spirits often have.  (Where do you think we got the phrase “spirits are down?”)

So he decided to pep himself up by hovering over a meeting of the board of directors of the company he left behind.

The trip from Kemmerer, Wyoming to Plano, Texas is pretty quick and easy when you are a ghost and don’t have to bother with airport security.

Now, he has had second thoughts about the trip.

JC was a little late for the meeting and the subject on the table when he arrived was “coolness.”

“We aren’t cool,” said director Jody Plumber.  “Yes, that’s true, said another director.  “Wait a minute,” said JC, “we’re not SUPPOSED to be cool.  We’re JC Penney.  We’re dowdy and proud.”

But, of course, no one heard him because he’s a ghost.

“Hey,” said director Plumber, “let’s hire that guy Ron Johnson.  He made Target cool and then he made the Apple Stores SUPER cool.  He’s just who we need.”

At this point, the ghost was approaching apoplexy. “No, no, no!  Listen to me.  Middle aged middle American women don’t want ‘cool.’ they want bargains.  Sales.  Coupons.  They want to feel like they’re putting things over on us.”

But, of course, no one heard him because he’s a ghost.

So they hire this Apple guy and he turns the company upside down.  No more coupons. No more big sales.  No more prices that end in “.99” or “.95.”  Stores within the stores.  Woo Martha Stewart from her Macy’s contract.  Bring in the young.

Business wasn’t terrific around the time all that happened.  But not to worry, says Johnson, we’ve signed Ellen DeGeneres to do our ads.  We have slick mailers in the pipeline. “I’ll get that stock back up into the stratosphere.  They’ll love us.”

They hated “us.”

JCP lost billions and about a year and a half after they hired him, the board replaced him with the same guy he’d replaced.

Pure bravery.

Penney’s sent its customer base elsewhere and they weren’t attracting the replacements.  “Give it time,” says Johnson.  “Time’s up,” says the board.  JC applauds.

Actually, Johnson wasn’t as perceptive as billed.  When the board cut his compensation by 97% after a year on the job, he didn’t get the message.

“Now, here’s what you do” says the ghost of JCP.  “You put ads in all the big papers that say “We want you back.  We’re back to doing things the old way.  Coupons.  Sales.  Decent stuff at moderate prices.  Prices that end like everyone’s used to, like 19.99 or 29.95.

Use your JCP charge card and get 10% off on your first purchase this week.

But, of course, no one heard him because he’s a ghost.

What went wrong?  Customers didn’t want cool.  They wanted cheap.  They wanted to feel like they were getting away with murder even though they weren’t.

JC’s ghost asked a woman called Claire a question.  Claire is a 30-something mother of two making a decent living, has a college education and is blunt in her answers.  And because she believes in ghosts, she actually heard JC when he asked “where did we go wrong?”

Her answer was “you’re trying to train women to shop like men.  And that’s not going to happen.”

No, it isn’t.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013

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