Department stores have faced a turbulent world in retailing during the past few years - so turbulent that they have been forced to make many changes, the vice chairman of the JC Penney Co. said.
David Miller said the chain stayed afloat by eliminating automotives and appliances in the early 1980s when the company's balance sheet weakened. He told students at a Brigham Young University Executive Lecture that this year, the company is eliminating electronics and sporting goods.The $15 billion corporation is now in the business of apparel and decorative home goods, something Miller says is in high demand.
"The consumer drove us to do this along with economics," he said at the Thursday lecture. "We have more growing profit in apparel."
In 1983 pre-tax earnings at JC Penney were at $666 million and in 1987 they were at $1 billion.
While at BYU, Miller gave the school a $500,000 donation to go into a research endowment fund in JCPenney's name.
"We are making great progress," Miller said. "We dropped $2.5 billion in sales to accommodate, but I think it will mix well. We are on our way."
JC Penney's most recent efforts to keep up with a changing market include placing a number of different stores in one big store. The company has 14 different apparel stores with name brand items from St. John's Bay to Units.
Part of the progress includes eliminating the JC Penney label, he said. "We are erasing the JC Penney label as fast as we can."
What appeals to a person as value depends on where he buys and his income, he said. The look of merchandise, quality, location, advertisement, selection and price all go into how a person evaluates a product.
"The hottest thing going is a jacket made to look old, but it can't be old. It has to be a new old jacket," he said. "It's made to satisfy the ego. As your income goes up, the more money you have to spend to satisfy your ego."
He said even though the word "ego" most often has bad connotations, it is a real part of everyone's self-esteem and is taught at an early age.
"Everyone wants the Levi patch or alligator on the shirt," he said. "JC Penney had a duplicate jean, but people preferred to pay $5 more to get the label."
In the past 20 years the retail market has had an explosion in retail space, Miller said. Total shopping space per person has increased 225 percent.
At the same time the middle income families have increased and there has been a 50 percent increase in real disposable income.
Because of that, JC Penney targets the middle income family for its business.
"The lower income consumer will buy in a non-ego market because consumers will buy in the lowest cost environment acceptable to their ego. If we target the market below $20,000, we will not attract the middle income and above consumers because of the ego factor."
Miller said, however, that some things have not changed at JC Penney. The company still believes in the concept of doing what is right and just and trying to correct mistakes.
"If you really want to take advantage of your employer, customer or client, do more than is expected. If you do, it will separate you from the rest."