Johnson has established himself as a retail iconoclast, willing to rewrite the rules of the game in his high-stakes reinvention of the 110-year-old Penney’s. In terms of speed and scope, he’s leading a retail overhaul of unprecedented proportions — resculpting Penney’s prosaic selling floors into a “specialty department store” with ultimately 100 individual specialty shops within the box, adding better brands to modernize the mix while tossing out the dogs, and developing a cleaner, easier-to-navigate layout with coffee stops, gelato stands and high-tech advancements for service. He’s also introduced a controversial everyday low “fair and square” pricing scheme that eliminated coupons and the high-low price promoting Penney’s was addicted to, though clearances are still staged.
As for the department store’s overall, four-year-long reinvention: “At the end of the process Johnson will either be the hero for boldly reinvigorating and rethinking the $15 billion Penney’s business,” WWD says, “or the goat who brought it down.” Hero or goat, Johnson? Hero or goat? (No pressure.)