NEW YORK – J.C. Penney is honing in on its home department as part of a bigger plan to turn its stores into mini-malls of sorts.
The struggling department-store chain is unveiling revamped home areas within its stores that feature 20 boutiques that highlight 50 new brands. The areas will include an eclectic mix of items, from $60 Michael Graves stainless steel teakettles to $1,850 Jonathan Adler Happy Chic sofas.
The home areas, which Penney began to roll out Friday at 500 of its 1,100 stores, will test CEO Ron Johnsons plan to open separate shops-within-stores for popular designers. The format, which gives department stores more of a mini-mall feel, have been popular at higher-end rivals like Macys and Bloomingdales for years.
Penney, which already has debuted mini shops-within-stores for popular clothing designers like Joe Fresh, hopes the new home areas will help it woo back shoppers.
The chain is struggling to rebound its business after losing a quarter of its revenue and amassing nearly $1 billion in losses in the past year since it began tweaking everything from its pricing to its stores.
The revamp of the home areas presents a big opportunity for the retailer to regain its footing.
While home sections typically are among the least profitable of a department store, they help to drive customers into the store. And demand for home furnishings is rebounding along with the U.S. housing market: Sales of furniture and home decor reached $92.9 billion last year, up 7.8 percent from the low of $86.2 billion in 2009 during the recession, according to spending tracker MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.
Its going to be a struggle, but the home area could generate some momentum, said Walter Loeb, a retail consultant.
But Penney, based in Plano, Texas, has its work cut out for it. Penney was planning to anchor its home areas with the Martha Stewart lifestyle brand. But the company is fighting in court with Macys over whether Macys has exclusive rights to sell certain Martha Stewart products like bedding, cookware and bath items.
Adding to that, Penneys home business has lost considerable cache from its heyday. The business once accounted for nearly 20 percent of Penneys total store sales, but that number has dropped to 12 percent as the assortments have failed to attract the younger customers who update their homes more often than their older counterparts. Penney says that its home department, which had attracted an average age of 45, has the oldest shopper compared with rivals like Target Corp. and Macys.
Penney executives say the new sections will appeal to a broader group of customers. About 70 percent of the merchandise in the new home area will be new or retooled brands. To make room for the new labels, Penney got rid of long-standing names, including traditional home furnishing brand Chris Madden.