JCP sells both Happy Chic by Jonathan Adler lamps and less-than-great suits.
Today’s visit to JCP — the retailer formerly known as JCPenney — made me realize why the brand’s been having such trouble lately.
I really wanted to like the store a lot: It took some flak when it hired Ellen Degeneres as a spokeswoman. It’s committed to giving to charities like Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Dress for Success. It was one of the first companies to promote a same-sex family in ads.
This month JCP sprang for an ad campaign in some of my favorite magazines, promoting its partnerships with brands like Jonathan Adler, who created a diffusion line of his Happy Home products called Happy Chic; Martha Stewart, whose line is called MarthaHome; and Michael Graves. Some of the offerings looked intriguing, so today The Bulgarian and I wandered through the store at Tempe Marketplace.
The physical layout of the store is great — very clean and open. But as we browsed, I realized there were a few problems with JCP’s diffusion lines. First, there are so many that the offerings are sparse. I liked the look of this Michael Graves mantel clock, for example, but it’s available only in this terra cotta that I, personally, find abhorrent. Graves uses the same color in his slow cookers, serving platters, even his rubber spatulas. No sale.
I was most excited to see the Adler stuff. I’ve had a consumer crush on him for years — even before I wrote this piece when he helped rebrand a Palm Springs hotel as The Parker. I am obsessed with the horse lamp at right — if it weren’t nearly $600, it would be in my house right now. His design is cheeky and abundantly colorful, which I love.
But again, at JCP there was only a limited selection of many items in-store: The Elizabeth Greek Key lamp at the top of this post may be only $75, but it’s sold only with a navy shade. The pillows were a little too vibrant for my taste — I know, right? — and so we ended up sniffing the candles.
Here’s where Problem #2 came around: Those candles were still $28. Adler sells some signature-line candles for $38 (and ones in pottery for even more) … but he also sells signature-line candles for $28, so there’s no real discount involved in these diffusion products.
* Tangentially: What’s the cutoff point for a scented candle, before it hits the “crazy expensive/second thoughts” price? I bought a Molton Brown “Firefly Embers” one at Neiman Marcus once because the fragrance was so unusual — the description includes the words tar, black leather and campfire — but it was $49 and it just about killed me. I rarely burn it because I’m so keen to preserve the experience (and so I don’t have to ever buy another). But if a candle has a common-ish scent, I’d balk at anything that costs more than like $15–$20. You?
So here’s the JCP conundrum: Customers who come in already familiar with Adler, or Jasper Conran, or Martha Stewart, are going to expect a certain quality of selection … which doesn’t quite exist yet in-store. (Us in the Martha Celebrations section: “This is all like cupcake liners and greeting cards. Lame.”) And when they wander the rest of the store, they’re going to find clothing that probably isn’t up to what they’re used to spending cash for.
Don’t get me wrong: I love affordable clothing, which is why I own William Rast for Target jeans but no signature-line ones. And why I haunt resale and outlet stores, not department stores. But I’m also selective about how things fit — I don’t care how inexpensive a jacket is if it puckers at the shoulder and I know that’s not the sort of thing a tailor could fix. I won’t buy T-shirts made with cotton that’s so rough and rigid that it feels like they’re woven from corrugated cardboard. The Bulgarian and I tried on a lot of suit jackets, including a seersucker one that was kind of fun but, again, we always had problems with the cut of the suits. Is that a little la-di-da? Maybe, but those are the very people that JCP is trying to attract with brands like Happy Chic. When the more discerning shopper goes looking through the rest of the store, they’re likely to be disappointed.
On the reverse sign of the situation are the people who have never heard of Jonathan Adler or Georgina Chapman; they’re there to pick up their St. John’s Bay classics or Clarks sandals, and if they’re going to spring for a candle, it’s not going to be a $28 one when you can get a perfectly good Island Breeze one at Kmart for $12. They’re going to look at a $400 mixer like the one from Bodum as the sign of an insane person — and as they see the these more-expensive brands given prominent display (“encroaching on their territory”), they might desert the store for competitors that are less pricey.
I will give JCP credit for how much real estate it devoted to men’s clothing, from “guys”/juniors to the more senior-leaning brands. And the only place in the entire store where the the displays and racks felt cramped was in the mini-Sephora, which was a little too tightly organized to feel friendly.
That said, I walked through almost all of the store, and I ended up buying only one T-shirt that, even after tax, was less than $7. I should have been been able to find more — and if I’m not impressed enough to buy a $38 Adler throw pillow, how would I ever be compelled to buy a $2,800 Adler sofa that I can’t even see in-store?
|WHAT SAM WORE: 5-27-13|
|The shirt: Glacier National Park tee, from Old Navy.|
|The shorts: Cargo shorts by American Eagle Outfitters, from Buffalo Exchange.|
|The shoes: Sneakers by Diesel, from Last Chance.|