Piers Morgan Chats With Penney CEO, But No Word on Floundering Makeover

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Watching Piers Morgan's interview with Ron Johnson, CEO of J.C. Penney (JCP), was sort of like stepping into The Twilight Zone.

The CNN host heralded Johnson as the genius behind Apple (AAPL) stores who's now working his magic on J.C. Penney, ignoring the big, fat elephant in the room: Johnson's February makeover of the chain -- which eliminated most sale events and coupons -- has so far flopped, sinking revenues and alienating shoppers.

The media (including this very news outlet), have covered the troubled makeover of the iconic chain ad nauseam.

The story actually started on a hopeful note: Johnson was initially cast as Penney's white knight, the cool kid from Apple -- and Target (TGT) -- who would transform Penney's dowdy image.

But as the no-sale strategy sent sales spiraling and consumers through the exit door, industry pundits started to wonder if Johnson would do irrevocable damage to the 110-year old department store chain.

As for Morgan? No mention of any of this to Johnson.

Instead, the host spoke in semi-breathless tones to the CEO. "You're the turnaround guy," he said, who has set out to "reinvent an iconic institution."

He also spoke about Johnson's star turn at Apple, where he shaped its highly successful retail stores from the ground up, as largely equivalent to the task of reinventing J.C. Penney. "What you did there is very relevant to what you're doing now," Morgan said.

Uh, not necessarily. Creating stores for a trendy, cult-like computer company is very different than reviving an old-line department store that sells everything from clothing and housewares to handbags and jewelry.

Still, Johnson agreed that the "winning-on-innovation" philosophy that turned Apple stores into a hit also sets the stage for a renaissance at J.C. Penney. "We're moving from trying to sell stuff to people to help Americans look and live better everyday," he said.

Meanwhile, over the past few months, Johnson has backpedaled on parts of his drastic turnaround strategy. For one, Penney reintroduced the word "sale" to its vocabulary after shoppers started to defect. But Morgan didn't bring that up.

Johnson then rattled off to the host a list of some of the cool merchandise J.C. Penney has been cooking up, like an exclusive home line from Sir Terence Conran, the British retailer/restaurateur whose modernist, high-brow stores are iconic in the world of home design, as well as Levi's jean shops that are staffed with denim experts akin to the tech gurus at Apple stores' Genius bars.

But is this what Penney's core Middle American shopper wants? Morgan didn't ask.


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