In remarks at the Fashion Group International luncheon last week, JCPenney ceo Ron Johnson seemed to confirm what we were hearing during last month's New York Home Fashions Market: some of the Martha Stewart merchandise being contested by rival Macy's as exclusive to its stores is headed to JCP minus the Stewart branding.
The Martha Stewart product categories at Macy's, by the way, include bedding, bath, furniture, casual and fine dinnerware, flatware, stemware, cookware, bakeware, giftware, ornaments and barware. Now, if Macy's is claiming all of those as exclusives - most of them were listed in the original 2006 announcement of the Macy's/Martha deal - that negates a significant amount of Martha branding from JCP's home department - which, as a reminder, is to be anchored by a 20,000-square-foot Martha shop. One supplier who'd seen a diagram of the prototype home department before the Macy's contretemps described it as a whole lotta Martha footage with minimal boutique spaces carved out for the other shop brands.
One assumes the architects working for Penney are redrawing the specs to reflect the new reality. I can't imagine Macy's is going to stand for bedding, bath and tabletop carrying Stewart's aesthetic stocked in a Stewart shop - even without the name attached.
Which brings to mind American Living, the huge, multi-category Ralph Lauren-designed program JCP launched in 2008. The Lauren name was nowhere to be seen in consumer advertising or on the merchandise. (Why? Macy's.) People in the trade knew it to be Ralph design; the JCP consumer, not so much. The brand, which will end its run next year, never lived up to its billing. Whether the pricing, the economy or the lack of Lauren branding was to blame is a matter of debate.
Can JCP call the non-Martha Martha merchandise something like Living (after her magazine Martha Stewart Living) or Everyday (as in the old Martha Stewart Everything collection at Kmart)? Would that be too close to Stewart branding for Macy's to tolerate - or too far from the Martha name to resonate with consumers?
We'll find out when the sheets hit the store in May.