Will bringing the outdoors inside stores work for J.C. Penney?

Photos: JCPenney
Sep 16, 2019

J.C. Penney recently announced plans to roll out a St. John’s Bay Outdoor lifestyle collection as well as install in-store departments in select stores to be called the Outdoor Shop.

Launching in approximately 600 stores and online beginning on Sept. 12, St. John’s Bay Outdoor is “versatile collection of rugged shirts, jackets and pants will carry him from outdoor adventures to a guy’s night out in style.”

The Outdoor Shop, measuring approximately 800-square-feet, will open in 100 stores and on jcp.com on Oct. 3. The shops will prominently feature St. John’s Bay Outdoor, along with the exclusive American Threads brand and two non-exclusive and tech-enhanced brands, The American Outdoorsman and HI-TEC.

“As America spends more time outdoors, J.C. Penney is launching an entirely new outdoor category for men that delivers what he wants and what aligns with his lifestyle,” said Michelle Wlazlo, chief merchant, in a statement. “With this expansion, J.C. Penney is taking part in the nearly $900 billion outdoor recreation industry by offering functional, durable apparel with our customer expectations at the core, all at an incredible value.”

The new outdoor labels complement active lifestyle brands available at Penney, including the retailer’s private brand, Xersion, and national brands such as Nike, Adidas, Champion and Puma.

The outdoor push adds depth to Penney’s men’s outerwear assortments that appear to mimic Kohl’s offerings. Macy’s carries more premium labels such as The North Face, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.

The outdoor theme may also add differentiation to the Penney shopping experience. Kohl’s has lately focused on health and wellness as a differentiator, adding Under Armour, Nike Plus and deeper assortments of other active brands. Kohl’s efforts have also included partnerships with WW (Weight Watchers), Planet Fitness and Alliance For A Healthier Generation.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does outdoors represent a viable sales opportunity for department stores? Will St. John’s Bay Outdoor and the Outdoor Shop gain much traction for J.C. Penney?

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"This may prove to be an interesting initiative for J.C. Penney as they struggle to remain relevant to shoppers and seek to differentiate in the market."

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19 Comments on "Will bringing the outdoors inside stores work for J.C. Penney?"

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Mark Ryski

This appears to be more of a merchandising “adjustment” rather than a major overhaul, but at least it’s an attempt at meaningful change. The fact that this move appears to mimic Kohl’s supports the “me too” nature of the move. Whether this will prove to have a big impact or not is yet to be seen. However, I’ll give J.C. Penney management points for putting a meaningful new merchandising program together and launching it in 600 stores.

Bethany Allee

The outdoors is a good trend to capitalize on, because J.C. Penney is more accessible and affordable than other players in the category. J.C. Penney has generated foot traffic from their Sephora store-within-a-store; a men’s outdoor store is a promising way to generate footfall from another audience.

Dr. Stephen Needel

At the risk of sounding stupid, haven’t department stores always offered outdoor clothing? I still have my winter topcoat from J.C. Penney (which hasn’t been worn in forever, since I live in Atlanta). So no, no more traction for new brands and a revamped in-store section. This news is less exciting than J.C. Penney would like us to believe.

Jeff Sward

This is a perfectly logical step for J.C. Penney to take, but it all lies in the execution. If this is a banner hung over a fixture of flannel shirts or fleece jackets, it will be crickets. Can they really compete with L.L.Bean and Eddie Bauer? Remains to be seen, but I like the thought process and intent.

Dave Bruno

Any move to find more appeal to younger consumers is a move in the right direction for J.C. Penney. Time will tell if these additions to their assortment will bring more Millennial men to their brand, but I applaud the effort. It feels like a (small) step in the right direction.

Dave Wendland

This may prove to be an interesting initiative for J.C. Penney as they struggle to remain relevant to shoppers and seek to differentiate in the market. Presuming this new Outdoor Shop is interactive, highly engaging and perhaps resembles a Bass Pro Shop type environment, J.C. Penney may shine. If, on the other hand, they are simply placing merchandise on racks and calling it something “new,” their success may be limited.

Carol Spieckerman
Looking at this as a separate initiative, and resisting the temptation to judge whether it will solve all of J.C. Penney’s problems (which misses the point), I like many things about this program: The athleisure movement is getting played out and hitting saturation. Outdoor crossover is potentially the next big thing and J.C. Penney is smart to invest in it and put a stake in the ground as an affordable alternative. Although St. John’s Bay Outdoor is being called a new brand, it’s more of a spin-off of an established J.C. Penney private brand (St. John’s Bay). It is shrewd of J.C. Penney to tap into existing brand equity and awareness rather than attempting to start from scratch. St. John’s Bay Outdoor launched this week and the actual shops will follow next month. This phased approach will give St. John’s Bay Outdoor an opportunity to take hold before the shops launch. I like that J.C. Penney is merchandising well-known national brands alongside St. John’s Bay Outdoor rather than taking an our-brand-vs-your-brand approach. Finally, creating a… Read more »
Dick Seesel

As one of its heritage private brands, St. John’s Bay has always had an “outdoor” positioning — think flannel shirts, Eddie Bauer-style goods, and so forth. So the new initiative is a smart expansion of an existing concept rather than re-inventing the wheel. Now how about the women’s apparel zone? Still suffering from too many brands and too much assortment.

Neil Saunders

This is a step in the right direction, but it’s a small step in a very long journey. As such, it will not solve all of the issues at J.C. Penney. I also worry about how this is executed in stores. Will it simply get lost in a sea of merchandise? If so, then it will all be for nothing. In short, there needs to be a more holistic approach to J.C. Penney’s woes.

Evan Snively
Evan Snively
Loyalty Strategist, Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute
1 year 9 months ago

I’d be hard-pressed to believe that there is a consumer base that will go out of its way to shop the “St. John’s Bay Outdoor” collection the way many do to shop Patagonia, The North Face, Arc’teryx, and even Eddie Bauer – however there is no way that was ever the intent. In that sense it really is more of a merchandising positioning move, which certainly has upside for J.C. Penney, especially for their in-store experience.

Carlos Arambula

It is a viable sales opportunity. However, if it’s just repackaging what currently works towards the same current consumer, then it is not a viable sales increase opportunity — which is critical.

Doug Garnett

Without detailed inside information, I don’t see how we can say whether this will work or not. But there are a few things I can say.

This is an excellent direction. New clothing with a strong brand name will bring new shoppers to the store. I don’t know why more retailers aren’t doing smart things like this — instead too many chase shiny baubles.

As I’ve written elsewhere (such as this article: Innovative Products Are Key to Brick and Mortar Future), well promoted, innovative products are one key sign of health for a retailer.

Brian Kelly
1 year 9 months ago

for those in the bubble, it’s outdoor clothing.
for those outside the bubble, it’s clothing for many purposes.

J.C. Penney’s target lives outdoors, they don’t go outdoors.
J.C. Penney must be relevant to the dwindling middle class and that lifestyle requires a closet that does double and triple duty.

Go to a wake or wedding, a graduation or a community gathering, or church or a PTO meeting or a kids soccer game. Those are the occasions and the budget must be able to provide a wardrobe for each of them.

If it’s St John’s Bay — aka faux L.L.Bean/Eddie Bauer gear — it won’t work. Instead think Carhartt. Think fuller, generous cut, heavier piece goods, beefier construction. Clothing that is comfortable and will hold up and last with repeated washings.

Jeff Weidauer

This is a positive move by J.C. Penney, but it may be too little too late. The tale will be told in the execution of the program. In any case, it’s unlikely to create a destination for outdoor wear seekers. J.C. Penney desperately needs relevance and new shoppers. Adding an outdoor line will help with the former, but probably not with the latter.

Zach Zalowitz
Viable sales opportunity? Sure, anything new or assortment-extended is. The question is why. In an overall market where foot traffic is declining for most, I just wonder whether this is the thing that helps pull people into the stores. To others’ points in their comments, this sounds more like plugging a missing assortment for outdoors, rather than a competitive leg-up. Here’s a crazy idea – get local Boy Scouts (and Girl Scouts if they want) to come to J.C. Penney on a Sunday to learn the basics around outdoor survival skills. Box off part of the parking lot and make an event of it. Offer them discounts on select items while there. The parents buy something for themselves, and something for the kids. Give them a return coupon for a future visit in the coming three months (for a low percentage off). Back to the point – J.C. Penney needs to get folks remembering why they were so great before, and a new group of people in the door who haven’t shopped there before. Offering… Read more »
Neil Schwartz

There is so much wrong here, it’s hard to know where to start. First, J.C. Penney needs to learn about the outdoor enthusiast/consumer. Talk is cheap. Aside from Adidas, which has small market share in outdoor across the board, these brands don’t offer any sort of credibility. What sort of process was used to determine which brands they wanted to pair with? This is a perfect example of where third-party data could have help them decide which brands would be their best bets for merchandising and partnerships. Where are the outdoor influencers shopping? Answer: not J.C. Penney.

Last for this post but not for my thoughts on this, walk into any J.C. Penney store, (which I happened to do over the weekend). I’m just saying, wanting to start selling to more of an outdoor-oriented consumer is just talk. How about dressing their own employees to look the part? As I said earlier, there is so much wrong here.

Paco Underhill

Did Lands’ End save Sears? How has Sephora inside JC worked? JC needs to work on its own brand.

Karen McNeely

What I appreciate so much about this initiative is that it is true to the J.C. Penney brand and aligns with Jill’s stated vision for how she was going to turn Penney’s around by getting back to retailing basics. They are not wildly changing their pricing strategy without testing it first; they are not randomly deciding to bring in appliances to the product mix. They are building on a private brand that is already a part of who J.C. Penney is and making it more relevant and exciting as well as getting some press.

I don’t think anyone expects this move alone to right the ship, but a series of moves like these, based on updated vision of retailing basics, certainly could. Kudos to Jill Soltau and Michelle Wlazo for taking a low risk, well thought out approach to invigorating the Penney’s brand. I think James Cash Penney would approve.

Craig Sundstrom

There’s nothing wrong per se with offering attractive, well-priced outdoor wear, or attractive, well priced goods of any kind, for that matter. The problems of course, are (1) lots of stores do this, so even if JCP does it well it will be hard to really differentiate on it, and (2) as their “recovery” seems to always be some distance away, there’s increasing pressure to find some miracle cure, which just distracts from “baby steps” approaches like this.

"This may prove to be an interesting initiative for J.C. Penney as they struggle to remain relevant to shoppers and seek to differentiate in the market."

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