An interview with JCPenney SVP/GMM Chris Phillips
MR: Your personal journey: how did you become SVP/GMM at JCP?
Chris Phillips: My GMM role at JCPenney involves leading all apparel categories for Men’s, Women’s, and Kid’s/Baby. I’ve been fortunate to have had a gratifying career in retail across specialty and digitally native brands in roles across Merchandising, Digital, and overall General Management and Brand Leadership. I’ve had incredible mentors within retail from Amy Williams and Sheryl Clark at Gap Inc to Gerry Bachynski at Comark in Canada and Mike Smith at Stitch Fix. Here at JCPenney, I work with an incredible group of leaders from all areas of retail, which makes every day a great learning experience.
MR: What’s your mission for men’s tailored clothing at JCPenney these days?
CP: At JCPenney, we exist to serve and celebrate diverse, working American families, and our business is very strong. As we navigated the changes over the last two years, we remained committed to our product strategy to serve our customers in all their pursuits and life’s occasions across apparel, home, fine jewelry, and our services. This commitment in support of our customers since the pandemic has enabled us to emerge even stronger.
Specifically in apparel, over the last year, our dress-up businesses across all genders and ages have been some of our strongest. Clearly, our customers are out celebrating again, getting back to work, and ultimately getting more dressed up coming out of two long years at home. The difference now is that even within dress-up, the demand for comfort is paramount; we’ve innovated in our tailored businesses to support this demand. Increased stretch capabilities, fabric innovation for temperature regulation and loosened up fits in pants are just a few ways we’ve successfully met that demand. Our ability to outfit customers for celebratory moments – holidays, weddings, graduations, to name a few – in apparel AND in the home (and on wedding fingers!) has never been stronger.
MR: Could you describe your tailored clothing mix?
CP: Our mix of private and national brands provides great value for our customers. Quality has always been and will continue to be a cornerstone of JCPenney’s value proposition. Within dress-up, our private brands such as Stafford and JFerrar in our Men’s portfolio are beloved and extremely strong. Coupled with exclusive and national brands such as Shaq, Haggar, Michael Strahan, and Van Heusen, we have a high-quality range of men’s clothing to serve our customers.
Our overall business is essentially a 50/50 split of private label and national brands, which enables us to deliver a range of product across style, end use, and price preferences. We carry dozens of brands across all of JCPenney. Our powerhouse store brands are some of the strongest in all retail, brands such as St John’s Bay, Arizona, Stafford, JFerrar, and Mutual Weave. (In women’s, there’s also Liz Claiborne, Worthington, and ANA.)
MR: What do you feel is most needed to jumpstart tailored clothing sales at retail? Will corporate America ever go back to mandating suits for the office?
CP: Fostering genuine and lasting relationships with customers through compelling product and great experiences has been and always will be the key to delivering. While I don’t think we’re going back to “mandates” around how one dresses or works, I do think people will always want to dress in ways that reflect their personal style and boost their confidence. There are more ways than ever to take a singular suit and have two different guys wear it in ways that are uniquely them. Imagine one more traditional with a woven shirt and polished shoes, the other with a graphic tee and the perfect white sneaker. A blazer goes a long way in a guy’s wardrobe. We’re seeing more customers make the investment in high-quality, lasting styles. This is good for them and good for the world at large. Our rallying cry is to ensure that we continue to innovate for comfort in these more tailored categories.
MR: Investing in quality that lasts: that might be good for the planet but if guys are replenishing their wardrobes less frequently, how is that good for business?
CP: Investing in quality has a substantial, long-term positive impact for all – the customer, the planet, and yes, for business. Great quality builds brand love, trust, and loyalty. At JCPenney, we have an incredible portfolio of beloved brands that have been around for decades, such as Stafford and JFerrar in our Men’s Tailored business. These brands continue to grow because we innovate within the brand’s ethos while always strengthening the quality that our customer knows and loves. This approach solidifies JCPenney as a top-of-mind choice when it comes to shopping for any occasion or need, knowing that quality is built into everything we do.
MR: Could you talk briefly about your online business and how it supports in-store or visa versa?
CP: We have a large and thriving online business. We don’t think of it as a standalone business, but as one of many touchpoints where customers can shop HOW they want and WHEN they want. Online can serve as a place for DISCOVERY and for EFFICIENCY. In partnership with our stores, customers can search and buy online and then pick up in-store, usually within that day. Their pick-up in-store can be either an efficient process or, if time permits, allow for additional discovery. Again, we’re here to serve our customers how they want, when they want, and all our touchpoints work together to make that possible.
MR: What keeps you up at night? What are you most worried about in terms of business?
CP: What keeps me up at night is less about “worry” and more about “wonder.” How do we better serve our customer with innovation in a value context and limit the trade-offs our customers have to make these days with so many demands and responsibilities? How do we continue to develop talent and create great experiences for our teams that ultimately lead to great outcomes for our customers? Our goal is to remain curious, courageous, and committed to customers in these times of unprecedented change.