13844 Wed, 02/20/2008 - 5:01pm
By Barbara Thau
PLANO, Texas–American Living hits J.C. Penney shelves this month and it’s the retailer’s biggest home launch ever.
While it may seem strange that J.C. Penney is putting so much stock in a previously unheard-of brand, the line comes from Global Brand Concepts, a division of Polo Ralph Lauren. Although the Lauren name is nowhere on the product, J.C. Penney is confident that the merchandise’s feel and presentation will cue shoppers that American Living is unmistakably Ralph, Penney officials said.
The retailer has big plans for the brand. The collection bows in soft home but will expand to tabletop in the fall, lighting and rugs in spring 2009, and could brand furniture, Jeffrey Allison, executive vice president of J.C. Penney Home and custom decorating, told HFN.
American Living, with an Americana feel that reflects the Lauren aesthetic, is being positioned as the cream of the crop of J.C. Penney’s home mix. In the good-better-best equation, it is positioned—and priced—higher than the Chris Madden program, which it’s “highly differentiated from,” Allison said. American Living comforter sets range from $189 to $249, for example.
The traditionally designed program targets the tastes of J.C. Penney’s core shoppers.
“We had a significant white space in home for a ‘best’ traditional brand position on our floor,” Allison said. “When American Living came along, we were thrilled. We know the traditional customer segment is more than half of our total” business, he said.
The collection now includes bedding, bath, decorative pillows and window treatments, “and has the potential to be one of the biggest parts of our window business,” Allison said.
J.C.Penney did a lot of pruning to make way for American Living. It shed underperforming “fringe assortments” in the J.C. Penney Home Collection, and “right-sized” Studio, its private-label line of modern soft home, which had become “too significant a part of our mix,” he said. “In the past, we were all about the J.C. Penney Home Collection umbrella. We’re trying to get much more targeted in building great lifestyle brands that speak to a customer segment.”
Indeed, American Living marks a shift in how J.C. Penney is building its businesses across the store.
It is now rallying around what it calls big “concepts” and “power brands,” such as Sephora in cosmetics and American Living in home and apparel.
“We’re not trying to have a ‘brand of the month’ philosophy,” Allison said.
At the same time, J.C. Penney is giving American Living the royal merchandising treatment.
The line is merchandised in a shoplike concept with white-wooden fixturing with a “clean, beautiful, old country store feel,” Allison said.
Like many retailers, J.C. Penney’s home business has been sluggish.
“When business is tough, we will continue to fight it out in the promotional business, but we know there is still a customer looking for a reason to come in and shop again,” Allison said. “If she doesn’t buy American Living, she’ll see the rest of our home assortment. It’s another way to [drive] traffic to the floor and bring customers in our door.”
American Living is also being pushed in an online store on jcpenney.com and in its catalogs—leveraging the retailer’s three-channel model.
The retailer is in the process of consolidating its buying functions for the three channels. In home, window buying functions have been consolidated so far, Allison said.
J.C. Penney is putting ample marketing muscle behind American Living. The retailer will blow out an ad campaign during the Academy Awards this month. At the store level, shoppers will be handed American Living shopping bags.
The line “inspires us to think about innovation and bringing something new to customers,” Allison said.