Monday, May 4, 2020

"Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit." - Aristotle

And now this one has inevitably gone bad. Another in what is sure to be a cavalcade of lawsuits, ill-executed exit "strategies" and proverbial "uncle!" yelling ....

This week, this disappointing, but unsurprising, headline appeared on CNBC - JC Penney goes to court to try to stop Sephora from pulling out of the troubled chain’s stores and in JC Penney's home market, this story from The Dallas Morning News.

I have always been puzzled as to the relationship between #Sephora and #JCPenney. Puzzled because their brands, to me, are not synchronistic. Puzzled because I, personally, haven't ever been a JCP shopper - although I have appreciated the brand's good nature, messaging and accessibility, and also its history and generosity.

Puzzled because Sephora has become a go-to, a game-changer, an iconoclastic innovator who brought all beauty brands - big, small and store-branded - to the fore in the most fun, non-classicist, festive, demographic-defying format I had seen in a long time. If not ever.

I do appreciate, from a retail and branding standpoint, what both brands stood to gain from one another. Namely, a broader customer base. A giant demographic. But I also thought the couple was surprising. Was mis-matched. Not unlike #PrettyInPink, but I won't say who is who in this scenario.

All of us brand-watchers have noted the mis-matched brand partnerships that look like so much striving and not enough, "of course!". It's a tricky game. Aligning one brand with another to gain an audience that should have similar attributes or buying power. But those ill-fated ones really, really end up doing damage to both brands - which may or may not be forgiven. I mean, Coca-Cola® and movie theatres - a resounding YES! Disney Theme Parks and #Starbucks® - correct! #McDonalds and #Monopoly - I'll take #FreeMcDonaldsFrenchFries whenever I can get them!

But, seriously, Dooney & Burke and #Disney. No thanks. #Target and #LillyPulitzer - great idea. Worst. Execution. Ever. I would put JCP and Sephora right up there.

To me, it's just because the brands never fit together. There was never going to be buy-in and trial on either side. The women I knew who shopped #Sephora at #JCPenney would literally run into the store entrance, only to shop within the makeup area, and then exit, stage left. This is much of what has happened with most suburban malls. In the past 20 years, I have only ever gone into 2 stores and 1 restaurant in our entire local mall. These days, proximity does not equal sales. People like who they like and it takes a lot to get folks to change their behavior, much less their passions.

That said, the fact that this relationship is now becoming forced upsets me even more for both sides.

It's not fair to the shoppers of either brand, but a forced union is not going to mean the brands are #MFEO (see: Sleepless in Seattle).

Well. It's really just another retail drama that will play out on the national stage. I had been so thrilled years ago when JCP finally changed the 1985-font of its logo. Sadly, the struggling brand promptly rescinded when there was customer backlash. I was thrilled when they got rid of coupons. It was inviting to potential new customers, much like their collab with #Mango. But traditional shoppers wouldn't have it.

I don't envy any brand trying to change its stripes.

How many have done it well? #TheSofterSideOfSears #CadillacCatera #McDonaldsSignatureCraftedRecipes ...?

This all comes the same day as #JCrew finally files for #bankruptcy, after being $1.6 billion in debt. Also, a result of trying to deviate from a tried, true and, dare I say, beloved, brand.

What will retail look like on the other side of this? What will we be buying in our #WorkingFromHome, #Athleisure, probably-not-consuming-luxury lives? It's up to us, I am sure. But which brands will be able to read our passions, our behaviors and our appetites and pivot to meet those demands?

I have a small prediction, but it's self-serving and hopeful and I wonder what's on everyone else's lists?

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