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Reeling J.C. Penney says its president is leaving

Published June 18, 2012 8:13 pm

Retailing • Chain gives no reason for immediate departure.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the latest sign of turbulent times at J.C. Penney, the department store chain said Michael Francis, the former Target Corp. executive brought in to help redefine the brand, is leaving the company.

In a terse statement, the department store operator gave no reason for his immediate departure, effective Monday.

"We thank Michael for his hard work at J.C. Penney and wish him the best in his future endeavors," said Ron Johnson, Penney's new CEO and former Apple Inc. executive, who came on board in November and is trying to transform the chain from a retail has-been to retail darling.

The move comes as the department store chain is scrambling to reverse a sharp drop in customer counts and sales. The decline came after a new pricing plan that eliminates hundreds of sales events ended up confusing customers.

Since announcing abysmal first-quarter results last month, Penney has been making changes to its advertising and marketing to better explain the three-tier pricing strategy that entails everyday low prices that are 40 percent lower than a year ago; monthlong sales that are deeper and are on select items; and clearance sale events.

But the company has also been backpedaling, as well. It added five "Best Price Friday" sales throughout the year, which would be in addition to the sales it has on the first and third Friday of every month. The company is also resurrecting the word "sales" in its advertising, a word that was taboo under Johnson's original plan.

Penney operates more than 1,100 department stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, including nine in Utah, where it also has an accounting center and a distribution center that collectively employ 1,500 people.

J.C. Penney hired Francis in October as president to redefine the company's brand and boost its business

Francis was responsible for merchandising, marketing and product development, and was behind a monthly magazine that highlighted key items. The monthly issues resembled the cheap chic look from Target.

J.C. Penney has hired a number of big-name executives to help transform everything about the retailer, from the brands it carries to the store experience. The riskiest move was the elimination of hundreds of sales events in favor of more predictable low prices, but shoppers have not embraced the change.

Investors were spooked by Monday's announcement. Shares of J.C. Penney Co., which closed down more than 2 percent at $24.33, fell nearly 6 percent more in after-hours trading Monday on the news.

After Johnson laid out his vision for the new pricing strategy to analysts at the end of January, shares soared, peaking at $43.13 on Feb. 9. But they have lost almost half of their value since.