J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) announces second-quarter earnings tomororw morning, and with JCP stock down 37.9% year-to-date through Aug. 9 and trading perilously close to its all-time low of $4.17, JCPenney earnings, good or bad, aren’t likely to matter in the bigger picture.
CEO Marvin Ellison continues to tweak the company’s business, and while key productivity indicators (KPIs) such as same-store sales might not show much progress, its business is transforming to meet the new retail paradigm.
On Friday, forget about the numbers, and focus more on what it says about its various ongoing initiatives to better its business in both its earnings press release and analyst conference call.
If you truly listen to what it says, I think you’ll find that JCP stock might just be one of the biggest value plays anywhere. Here’s why.
Unique to JCP Stock
JCPenney has developed a two-pronged attack to make itself unique in the marketplace. The first way it does this is by selling products that can’t be purchased elsewhere; products that are exclusive to JCPenney such as private label brands Liz Claiborne, St. John’s Bay and the collection by Michael Strahan.
JCPenney is using guerrilla sales tactics to win business. It’s going into areas where competitors are either leaving permanently or have taken their eye off the ball and grabbing market share. Think death by a thousand cuts only in a market share kind of way.
Apparel is a tough business where weather occasionally plays a big part in your success or failure. As a result, JCPenney’s getting into new categories that aren’t easily replicated online to lure more customers into the store.
Sephora’s a Hit
JCPenney’s relationship with the cosmetics retailer began a decade ago; it continues to flourish. Not only are they opening 70 new Sephora store-within-a-store locations in 2017, but they’re also expanding 32 flagships.
“What most don’t understand is that 10 years ago, we started this relationship with Sephora with the expectation to just open a couple of hundred stores. We’re going to end this year with Sephora cosmetic locations in 75% of our stores,” Ellison said at the Piper Jaffray Consumer Conference in June. “I mean, that’s a significant, significant improvement. And this is a great business for us. It drives an enormous amount of traffic within a customer demographic that we need.”
Even better, the Sephora relationship isn’t promotionally driven, which means it sells more products at full price. In an age where 60%-off sales are the norm, this makes JCPenney unique.
In addition to Sephora, I wrote in April how the company is doubling down on its hair salon business, transforming 750 locations into The Salon by InStyle, a place where JCPenney customers can get head-to-toe beauty solutions.
The combination gives the company a one-two punch in a hot market. That’s how you get customers coming into the store.
The E-Commerce Pure Play
As I mentioned, JCPenney’s trying to deliver unique products and services to its customers. Things that aren’t easily sold online.
Appliances, for one, have gone from nothing a year ago to being sold in over 600 stores. It’s also entered the furniture, mattresses, and home install services markets. I’d listen very carefully to what JCP says about these categories. I think you’ll find that it’s making hay on big ticket items which mean more money in the till.
As for JCPenney’s own e-commerce business, when Ellison took over it was woefully outgunned.
Since then, it has launched several initiatives. First, it established online ordering for same-day in-store pickup. Then, it developed a much better version of its mobile app. Finally, in a move right out of the Best Buy Co. Inc (NYSE:BBY) playbook, it just introduced in-store fulfillment providing it with the ability to ship online orders from every store.
“We now have the ability to ship online orders from existing inventory in all of our stores,” said Ellison in June. “The moment we were able to activate this last week, we immediately made $1 billion in additional inventory available for online customers without adding 1 SKU.”
It’s a game changer.
Bottom Line on JCP Stock
Analysts expect JCPenney to deliver second-quarter revenues of $2.84 billion, 2.7% lower than in the same quarter a year earlier and an earnings per share loss of five cents, the same as Q2 2016.
Those are the numbers.
While they aren’t meaningless, investors need to take them in the context of JCPenney’s transformation. You wouldn’t call construction of a 60-story building a failure after only 40 floors were complete. So, don’t read too much into this quarters numbers because they’re only signposts along the route.
JCPenney has made more changes over the past five years than Eddie Lampert’s made in the 14-odd years he’s owned Sears and K-Mart. That says a lot about which firm is trying to fix its business.
Little by little JCPenney is making its way back. At $5 and change, JCP stock provides exceptional value.
As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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