Starting in 1902 with a single store in Kemmerer, Wyo., headed by James Cash Penney, J.C. Penney Co. is one of those staples in American retail that has stood the test of time and many shopping trends and economic developments.
With brick-and-mortar retail and shopping malls seemingly under online threat, some have wondered about the future of this American institution. Joe Currie, 32, who took charge of Texarkana's J.C. Penney in Central Mall, said the talk of Penney's impending demise is premature.
"Under our current chief executive officer, Marvin Ellison, we've been applying the lessons we have learned in today's retail environment," Currie said. "Under his leadership, we've been bringing Penney's back in the modern era."
Currie admits that there was a time when J.C. Penney was not going in a favorable direction. To get back on course, J.C. Penney had to both relearn customer focus and rewin its customers.
"It was getting back to the fundamentals in many ways," he said. "Despite perception, people still want to shop. And there are some staples that no matter the online bargains, people still want to get their hands on it before they buy it. And when you have customers in your store, that is the chance for our employees to shine, finding out what they need and making sure their needs are served, which is a daily effort that never ends, by the way. We rewin our customers every day."
Besides the fundamentals of customer service, J.C. Penney has been engaging in a company-wide reconfiguration of their stores and the way merchandise is marketed.
"Again, we are customer focused in these changes," Currie said. "As an example, go to our kids section. You'll see the aisles are wider. When parents are shopping while pushing a stroller or towing a kid, you don't want them to have difficulty maneuvering in the store. And now, they will have comfortable space for shopping."
Also, the modern shopper is more aware than ever of trends in the merchandise they are interested in, so modern displays in J.C. Penney emphasize newness and showcase those trends.
"But again, it is all about our people getting to know our customers and finding out what they want," he said. Currie emphasized that J.C. Penney employees tend to stick around a long time once they come to work for the company.
"I graduated with a bachelor's in advertising. I wanted to be an art director," Currie said.
"But I needed to pay the bills coming out of school and got a job at J.C. Penney, starting out on the replenishment team (stockboy). But in three months, I was promoted to supervisor.
"And I realized I liked the place. J.C. Penney takes care of its employees, and in turn, they take care of the customers."
To show off the changes, J.C. Penney-Central Mall will hold an open house 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 3. There will be prize giveaways, food and entertainment for the customers.