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J.C. Penney launches new home department

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By MAE ANDERSON
AP Retail Writer

J.C. Penney wants you to come home.

The struggling department store this week launched its newly revamped home departments in 500 of its 1,100 stores, which feature splashy displays of new lines by designers and celebrities like Jonathan Adler, Michael Graves and Martha Stewart. The aim is to use the new home lines - which will each be displayed in a store-within-a store format grouped together in the center of the store - to attract customers back into its stores after a bold attempt to remake the department store chain failed.

But it won't be easy. CEO Mike Ullman, who became CEO in April, told The Associated Press that the company has let its home department slip in recent years as it stopped offering catalogues in favor of online sales.

"It's safe to say we hit the low point of home in terms of share penetration," said Ullman, during an interview at a launch event in New York on Thursday. "Now it's a question of building it back up."

Ullman said the new home lines range from classic to modern and should appeal to Penney's broad mix of shoppers. There are more gift items and furniture than previously offered and the company has brought back its drapery business.

He added that the home business is a promotional one, so plenty of sales are planned, particularly in the furniture area. For the "housewarming" sale to launch the new home lines, a Jonathan Adler Happy Chic queen-size bed was marked down to $1425 from $2375 and a Design By Conran chair was marked down to $735 from $1225.

That's quite a change from former CEO Ron Johnson's 18-month tenure. Johnson got rid of most sales. Johnson also envisioned J.C. Penney stores remade into boutique shopping experiences, with brands divided up into store-within-stores. After he was replaced by Ullman in April, the home division may be one of few parts of the store that actually carries out that vision.

Ullman declined to comment on J.C. Penney's plans beyond the home department. But he said the company has made a big investment in the home unit. While home sections typically are among the least profitable of a department store, they help to drive customers into the store. And the timing might be right with the housing market on the upswing.

"We've never had this many attractions or had this space commitment (to the home department) and we know that the dotcom experience has been improved, so we're optimistic," he said. He declined to give any specific sales targets for the division.

J.C. Penney started rolling out the new departments at 500 locations in April, but completion was pushed back until this week due to construction delays. Each shop-within-a-store will have its own distinct look and will range in size from 300 to about 800 square feet.

Among the new shops-within-stores will be Bodum, a Denmark-based kitchenware company. Jonathan Adler, known for his whimsical designs in home decor, also will have a shop. And Michael Graves, the architect turned home designer, will showcase his minimalist style in kitchen and home accessories in mini boutiques. Other lines include a party line by Martha Stewart, Pantone decor and bags and notebooks from U.K. firm Ordning & Reda.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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