Benton Harbor JCPenney Store Not On Closure List

Orchards Mall shoppers have finally learned the fate of the Benton Harbor JCPenney Company store after last month’s corporate announcement regarding closure of a number of stores nationwide. However, seven Michigan stores are on the closing list including the Lakeview Square Mall store in Battle Creek.

Under the plan, JCPenney expects to close two distribution facilities and 138 stores over the next few months. These strategic decisions will help align the company’s brick-and-mortar presence with its omnichannel network, thereby redirecting capital resources to invest in locations and initiatives that offer the greatest revenue potential.The Benton Harbor JCPenney store is NOT on the list of 138 stores facing the chopping block, it will remain open.

The major retailer announced last month that they are implementing a plan to optimize national retail operations as part of a successful return to profitability. In addition to the Battle Creek store, other closures in Michigan include the Delta Plaza store in Escanaba, and stores in the Westshore Mall in Holland, Copper Country Mall in Houghton, Birchwood Mall in Kingsford, Midland Mall in Midland and the Cascade Crossings in Sault Ste. Marie. Five JCPenney stores in Indiana will close including the one in Logansport.

Marvin Ellison is Chairman of the Board and CEO at JCPenney. He said last month, “In 2016, we achieved our $1 billion EBITDA target and delivered a net profit for the first time since 2010; however, we believe we must take aggressive action to better align our retail operations for sustainable growth. During the year, it became evident the stores that could fully execute the company’s growth initiatives of beauty, home refresh and special sizes generated significantly higher sales, and a more vibrant in-store shopping environment.” He added, “We believe the relevance of our brick and mortar portfolio will be driven by the implementation of these initiatives consistently to a larger percent of our stores. Therefore, our decision to close stores will allow us to raise the overall brand standard of the company and allocate capital more efficiently.”

The list of stores targeted for closure was not made available until today, having left many in suspense for several weeks. Ellison had said, “We understand that closing stores will impact the lives of many hard working associates, which is why we have decided to initiate a voluntary early retirement program for approximately 6,000 eligible associates. By coordinating the timing of these two events, we can expect to see a net increase in hiring as the number of full-time associates expected to take advantage of the early retirement incentive will far exceed the number of full-time positions affected by the store closures.”

The fate of the Benton Harbor store was in the hands of corporate officials, just like the fate of every other store in the company’s line up. CEO Ellison said last month, “We believe closing stores will also allow us to adjust our business to effectively compete against the growing threat of online retailers. Maintaining a large store base gives us a competitive advantage in the evolving retail landscape since our physical stores are a destination for personalized beauty offerings, a broad array of special sizes, affordable private brands and quality home goods and services. It is essential to retain those locations that present the best expression of the JCPenney brand and function as a seamless extension of the omnichannel experience through online order fulfillment, same-day pick up, exchanges and returns.”

As he continued to analyze the company’s strategy and concerns, Ellison points out that, “While many pure play e-commerce companies are experiencing dramatically increasing fulfillment costs, we are pleased with the double digit growth of jcpenney.com and how leveraging our brick and mortar locations is enabling us to offset the last-mile delivery cost. We believe the future winners in retail will be the companies that can create a frictionless interaction between stores and e-commerce, while leveraging physical locations to minimize the growing operational costs of delivery.” He notes that, “In fact, in 2016 approximately 75-percent of all online orders touched a physical store. Even with a reduced store count, JCPenney is competitively positioned to deliver a differentiated department store model that meets the expectations of a digital world with an inspiring, tangible shopping environment.”

As a result of the store actions, JCPenney will close a distribution center located in Lakeland, Florida in early June, at which time operations will transfer to the company’s logistics facility in Atlanta as part of a strategic effort to streamline store support services. The company also is in the process of selling its supply chain facility in Buena Park, California in an effort to monetize a lucrative real estate asset.

Associates who will be impacted by the store and distribution center closures will receive separation benefits, which includes assistance identifying other employment opportunities and outplacement services such as resume writing and interview preparation.

Eligibility for the Voluntary Early Retirement Program (VERP)  generally included home office, stores and supply chain personnel who met certain criteria related to age and years of service as of January 31.

Approximately 6,000 associates were eligible for the program. Current costs and future savings will be based on the number of associates who accepted on or before today’s deadline, when the consideration period expires. The company’s qualified pension plan will remain in a well-funded status post VERP. No cash contributions to the pension plan are anticipated for the foreseeable future. Charges related to the VERP, of which the vast majority will be non-cash, will be reported in the company’s first quarter fiscal 2017 results.

The total store closures represent approximately 13 – 14-percent of the Company’s current store portfolio, less than 5-percent of total annual sales, less than 2-percent of EBITDA and 0-percent of net income. The stores identified for closure either require significant capital to achieve the company’s new brand standard or are minimally cash flow positive today relative to the company’s overall consolidated average. Comparable sales performance for the closing stores was significantly below the remaining store base and these stores operate at a much higher expense rate given the lack of productivity. Once cycled, these closures are expected to be net income neutral.

The annual cost savings resulting from these strategic decisions, primarily occupancy, payroll, home office support, corporate administration and other store-related expenses, are estimated at approximately $200 million. During the first half of 2017, the company expects to record an estimated pre-tax charge of approximately $225 million, primarily lease termination obligation expenses, non-cash asset impairments and transition costs, in connection with this initiative.

The company released a full list of planned closures in today, and that list had been pending notification of all affected personnel. Nearly all impacted stores are expected to close in the second quarter of 2017.

Ellison closed his comments last month by saying, “I have a deep appreciation and respect for our associates who are on the front lines working tirelessly to serve our customers every day. Closing a store is never an easy decision, especially given the local impact on valued employees and our most loyal shoppers.” He notes, “While any actions that reduce or exclude our presence in communities across the country is always difficult, it is essential that JCPenney continues to evolve in order to achieve long-term growth and profitability and deliver on shareholder value.”

Image courtesy of J.C. Penney.