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J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) brought in Ron Johnson as CEO in January 2012, hoping he could transform the company.
Instead, during his 16 months at the helm, the retailer's losses reached nearly $1 billion and revenue plunged 25%.
That's because Johnson took away much of what Penney shoppers loved – coupons and sales –
and replaced them with what the store called low everyday prices. Store makeovers and changes in brands during Johnson's tenure also drove away customers who preferred the old Penney's.
"The challenge, I think, was moving too fast, too radical – and expecting that everybody was just waiting for the second coming of Penney's," Ken Nisch, head of retail brand and design firm JGA, told USA Today.
Meanwhile, morale at Penney's sunk in part because of Johnson's insistence on working from California instead of at the company's Plano, TX, headquarters.
Now, as Penney's seeks to rebound – with Johnson's predecessor, Mike Ullman, as interim CEO – the company's greatest value could be in its real estate, and going private may be its best best.
The retailer's flop begs the question: Which company will be next to fail?
The Next J.C. Penney
Here are four companies in danger of failing at their attempts to revitalize:
- Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY): Many considered Best Buy's demise imminent at the start of the year before founder Richard Schulze, who helped make the chain a retail electronics giant in the mid-2000s, announced he was going to take the struggling company private.
That didn't happen after Schulze failed to line up financing. But he became chairman emeritus and aimed to guide Best Buy back to its electronics retailing roots.
His goal is to improve operations by cutting costs and driving efficiencies, and he delivered results. About two weeks ago, Best Buy announced it would team up with Samsung Electronics on a store-within-a-store concept. And thus far this year, BBY stock has been on a tear, up 103%.
But earnings are forecast to plunge 16%, to $2.20 a share, which would be the lowest in nine years.
The electronics retailer needs to increase its web presence. Online retailers like Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) have crushed Best Buy. With no physical locations, web retailers are more efficient and offer better prices, and consumers find online shopping more convenient.
As e-commerce expands rapidly, Best Buy's bricks-and-mortar arm is cast as broken. Same-store sales have been declining, while online sales bring in only 6% of Best Buy's revenue.
- Barnes & Noble Inc. (NYSE: BKS): Barnes & Noble plans to shutter nearly a third of its stores – its core strength for 40 years, closing about 20 a year over the next decade until the tally reaches 450-500.
In its attempts to evolve into a digital company, BKS faces stiff competition from giants like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Amazon, as underscored by slowing sales of its signature Nook to rival devices.
B&N also faces ever-growing competition from e-readers and tablets that have threatened the print book market. E-books topped print sales for the first time in 2011, a trend that has endured. A recent study by Scholastic Corp. found that the percentage of children who have read an e-book has nearly doubled since 2010.
And books also compete with an explosion of music, movies, apps and video games, most accessed from mobile devices.
For BKS, the best possible scenario would be to take the company private, retail expert Hitha Prabhakar told Yahoo!Finance.
BKS reported a net loss of $6.1 million, or 18 cents per share, in the fiscal third quarter that ended Jan. 26, compared with a profit of $52 million, or 71 cents, a year earlier.
Revenue fell 10.3%, to $2.23 billion, below the $2.4 billion Wall Street was projecting, according to Thomson Reuters.
- Sears Holding Corp. (Nasdaq: SHLD) simply hasn't kept up with the times. The flailing company and most of its merchandise appear to be stuck in the 1970s. Bets are being taken on which will have a "going-out-of-business sale" first: Penney's or Sears.
Sears' fate lies in the hands of hedge fund manager – and now Sears CEO –
Eddie Lampert. He's an astute financial engineer who orchestrated the 2005 merger of Sears and Kmart, but has little merchandising experience. Moreover, as Bloomberg News noted, Sears is mainly a destination for washers, dryers and drill bits, while Kmart is borderline irrelevant.
Sales fell for the sixth consecutive quarter in Q4 of 2012. The loss of $489 million was more than the company's projections of $280 million-$360 million. Founded in 1886 as a catalog business, Sears has failed to keep up with the ever-changing dynamics of retail.
"I don't think Sears is viable. I don't think they can survive in the current state," veteran retail sector financier Howard Davidowitz of Davidowitz & Associates told MSN Money.
- RadioShack Corp. (NYSE: RSH) is plagued by low-margin items and loss of foot traffic in stores that serve as showrooms where people peruse items they then buy online.
The key to survival for electronics stores like RSH is to scale back stores and boost online offerings. But RadioShack, antiquated and nearly obsolete, is destined to get lost competing with rivals like behemoth Amazon.com.
Radio Shack's legacy consumer electronics retail business is on a downward spiral. In the latest quarter, RSH lost $8 million, or 8 cents a share, well below the $35.1 million profit garnered a year earlier, and way off the 4 cent profit analysts were expecting.
- Money Morning:
Bear of the Day: J.C. Penny
What can we learn from JC Penney's loss?
- USA Today:
Sunken J.C. Penney seeks way to climb back up
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