J.C. Penney: Out With the New, In With the Old

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JCP Executive Shake-up - Getty Images
Getty ImagesJ.C. Penney vice president of brand, design & trend Nick Wooster (left) reportedly will be replaced by his predecessor, Ken Mangone.
J.C. Penney has canned another executive and replaced him with a member of the old guard. And the latest management shakeup could spell the end of the retailer's style revolution.

Earlier this month, CEO Ron Johnson was replaced by his predecessor, Myron Ullman. Now the man he appointed to overhaul the retailer's apparel collections, Nick Wooster, has also been given the boot and will reportedly be replaced by his own predecessor.

The New York Post reports that the menswear style icon has been fired as executive vice president of private brands, a position he has held since last April. As with Johnson, he will be replaced by the man who used to occupy his office -- in this case Ken Mangone, who left the company when Johnson first took over.

With Johnson and Wooster's departures, we may be seeing the beginning of the end for J.C. Penney's attempt to remake its image.

Under the two executives, it wasn't just coupons that disappeared: Loyal customers also saw the inexpensive, "basic" clothing collections disappear from shelves, to be replaced by stylish jeans bars and boutiques from brands like Joe Fresh. Dozens of disaffected shoppers told us that the new clothes, clearly directed at a younger generation, had driven them to take their business to competitors like Kohl's and Macy's.

Shortly before Johnson got the boot, J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) CFO Ken Hannah acknowledged the apparel disconnect, and said that older brands like St. John's Bay would soon make a comeback. Now that Wooster has been ousted as creative director, don't be shocked if that concession becomes a full-blown retreat. That might please some older customers, but it's tough news for the younger, style-conscious shoppers who had started to discover that J.C. Penney was transforming itself into a source of inexpensive, stylish clothing.

And investors don't seem too impressed, either: While the share price spiked on the news that Johnson was on his way out, it quickly dipped again when it was revealed that the old boss would be coming back. As bad as things were under Johnson, it's easy to forget that the company wasn't exactly thriving under old management. Bringing back the old guard and rolling back the big changes might right the ship temporarily, but in the long term it does nothing to address the company's underlying issues.

We don't know for sure that Mangone will completely reverse Wooster and Johnson's apparel strategy. But if you were thinking of heading down to J.C. Penney to check out the new styles, you might want to do so before it's too late.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.


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