Call It the Jean-ius Bar: A Sneak Peek at J.C. Penney's New Levi's Shop

J C Penney
The Apple-ization of J.C. Penney (JCP) continues.

The department store unveiled its new shop concept Monday, showing off -- among other things -- a 1,500-square-foot men's Levi's store with an exclusive "denim bar" that evokes Apple's (AAPL) fabled Genius Bar.

The shop, staffed with "Levi's fit specialists," boasts jeans in 88 finishes and 11 cuts, and is designed to "reinvent how men shop for jeans," said Ben Fay, executive vice president of real estate, store design and development during a tour of J.C. Penney's Manhattan store in Herald Square.

Shoppers can explore Levi looks on in-store iPads.The Levi's shop -- a different version of which has debuted in the women's area -- is one of six new shops to debut in 683 of Penney's stores this fall.

They reflect CEO Ron Johnson's master plan to purge Penney's stores of outdated merchandising fixtures from the 1980s and replace them with a "Main Street of shops" that better showcases trend-right brands and "experiences" -- much the way the Apple store does, he said back in February.

The shops are just one facet of Johnson revamp of the chain, which includes the bold, highly criticized -- and so far, failing -- elimination of most sales events and coupons.

Also taking a page from Apple, the Levi's shops (with jeans in the $40 to $45 range) feature mobile checkout, which will be rolled out to all Penney stores by the end of the year and various departments, said Fay, who also hails from Apple, where he designed its retail stores.

The mobile checkout option dovetails with Penney plans, announced last week, to ditch cash registers, cashiers and checkout counters in all stores by 2014 -- yet another nod to Apple's mostly cash-register free stores.

Shoppers can explore Levi looks on in-store iPads.Penney has also created shops for Arizona, it's exclusive denim brand, i Jeans By Buffalo, a European fast-fashion brand that's now exclusive to Penney's in the U.S; Liz Claiborne, another proprietary line; the preppie label Izod; and the J.C. Penney's men's and women's collection.

Once the first wave of installations are completed this fall, about 6,800 new shops will revamp nearly 700 Penney stores, ranging from about 500 to 1,500 square feet and larger.

With the makeover of Penney's stores into an array of shops, Johnson hopes to move the chain away from the market-share losing department store format toward one of the most robust retail sectors today: The specialty store.

When consumers want a "great product" today, they more often go to specialty stores like J.Crew and H&M or Williams-Sonoma (WSM), he said in February.

These days, they're looking for "curated" and edited merchandise, and that's what J.C. Penney will deliver, Johnson promised.

Stay tuned.

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