JCPenney Ends Ron Johnson Experiment, Sends CEO Packing

JCPenney's "No More Sales" ad campaign was greeted with confusion and annoyance by consumers.

JCPenney’s “No More Sales” ad campaign was greeted with confusion and annoyance by consumers.

When Ron Johnson took over as CEO of JCPenney a little more than a year ago, he promised sweeping changes. A new image, an end to sales, everyday low prices, iPad-toting staffers, Genius Bar-like customer service. He tried all that, but the retailer still couldn’t shake its reputation as the place your mom dragged you to buy clothes you hated in 1984, and now Ron Johnson, he’s gone.

For all of Johnson’s big moves, he failed to resurrect the sagging retailer, which gave up on the whole “no sales” thing after only a few months and has since gone back to the weekly sales it derided in an infamous TV ad campaign full of unpleasant people screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOO.” That was probably the first sign there was a problem.

The second sign was that, even though the store dropped prices on almost everything by around 40%, the price drop wasn’t doing anything to get people in the door. JCP soon realized that consumers either responded better to deals marked as “sales,” or simply hadn’t gotten the store’s new messaging. Whatever the reason, JCP soon began to offer sales, and in early 2013, gave up on the no-more-sales thing entirely.

A third strike — or rather a foul tip — came last summer when Michael Francis, the Target vet hired by Johnson to be JCP’s new president, made an abrupt exit after only eight months on the job.

In spite of Johnson’s reputation as a retail guru, and his ability to get a number of his updates put into action, sales continued to sink at JCP during his tenure. The loss of billions in revenue resulted in thousands of personnel cuts, which are still ongoing, and landed the company on our Worst Company In America bracket for the first time.

In a recent regulatory filing, JCPenney admitted that it “may take longer than expected” to return the company to a stable state and confessed, “There is no assurance that we will be able to successfully implement our strategic initiatives.”

Adding to the doubts that any of Johnson’s overhauls will remain in place is the naming of his replacement — Myron Ullman, who had been nudged out of the JCP CEO gig to make room for Johnson.

According to news reports, Ullman is stepping in immediately, though the company says he is only the interim CEO, pending the eventual naming of someone else willing to take shot at turning the company around.

The news of Johnson’s exit comes only days after it was revealed that his pay had been cut by 96%, taking home only $1.9 million of the $52.7 million stock grant he’d been given when he was hired.

Penney Ousts Ron Johnson, Rehires Myron Ullman [WSJ]

Johnson out, former exec Ullman in as J.C. Penney CEO [USA Today]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.