• Former Shopko Stores president Jill Soltau will join JC Penney as CEO later this month.
  • The company also plans to capitalise on the popularity of social media platform Instagram by launching a new private brand tailored toward what it calls "socially connected moms".
Jill Soltau will join the business on 15 October

Jill Soltau will join the business on 15 October

US department store chain JC Penney has named former Shopko Stores president Jill Soltau as CEO and revealed it will launch a new private brand later this month, tailored towards what it calls "socially connected moms".

Soltau, who will also become a member of the company's board, will join the business on 15 October after most recently leading Joann Stores, the nation's largest fabric and crafts retailer.

"Jill stood out from the start among an incredibly strong slate of candidates," says Paul Brown, JC Penney board director and chairman of the search committee. "As we looked for the right person to lead this iconic company, we wanted someone with rich apparel and merchandising experience and found Jill to be an ideal fit. Not only is she an established CEO and former chief merchant, her depth of experience in product development, marketing, e-commerce and store operations have been an important basis for the turnaround work she spearheaded at prior companies." 

Prior to her tenure at Shopko, Soltau held several senior level positions in merchandising, planning and private brand management at Sears and Kohl's, after starting her career with Carson Pirie Scott, which was later acquired by Saks Inc.

"JC Penney is a quintessential American brand with a strong and loyal customer base, and I couldn't be prouder to lead such an iconic retailer," she says. "I am highly passionate about the customer and I spent my entire career focused on the needs of a value-based consumer by researching, understanding and meeting her expectations for style, quality, and inspiration. Every position I've held has prepared me for this role, and I couldn't be more excited to meet the talented and hard-working JC Penney teams and get to work."

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, notes the appointment of Jill Soltau is good news for the ailing retailer.

"JCP has been without leadership for too long and there is a sense that it has been drifting."

"JCP has been without leadership for too long and there is a sense that it has been drifting at a time when it should be capitalising on the strong consumer economy and making changes necessary to ensure its survival.

"In our view, putting an experienced female executive in the top role is a sensible move," Saunders adds. "One of JCP's central problems has been its inability to connect with women shoppers, especially in terms of fashion. We believe Ms Soltau will have a far more intuitive understanding of the changes that need to be made than many of those who held the role before her. This, along with her deep experience of retail - especially in terms of merchandising - will prove invaluable in turning the retailer around."

That said, Saunders still has many concerns about JC Penney.

"The company is in a relatively weak position financially, does not have much room for manoeuvrer, but needs to make some decisive changes to restore confidence among staff and investors, and to inspire customers," Saunders says. "That is a tall order for any new CEO, but with external conditions more favourable than they have been for a long time, Ms Soltau is at least in with a fighting chance."

Peyton and Parker

Meanwhile, in a move designed to capitalise on the popularity of social media platform Instagram, JC Penney has revealed it will launch a new private brand later this month, tailored towards what it calls "socially connected moms".

The new family lifestyle brand - Peyton and Parker - targets mothers that use the photo sharing app, with the collection inspired by so-called "Instagram moments".

The brand will be available seasonally in limited-edition capsule collections, beginning with a holiday line featuring coordinating family apparel, accessories, and shoes, as well as home décor. It will launch in about 400 JC Penney stores and online on 19 October.

"We were inspired to create a line that made it easy for mom to dress her family and decorate her home, creating a picture-perfect moment for all of her social media channels," explains Val Harris, senior vice president of product development and design for JC Penney. "Peyton and Parker is the company's first cross-divisional private brand in many years and was created by our incredibly talented product development and design team who saw a void in our assortment for a family lifestyle brand. The holidays are a critical shopping period and by introducing new brands, such as Peyton and Parker, we will drive traffic and invite new and loyal customers to discover what JC Penney has to offer this season."

The introductory capsule collection from Peyton and Parker features apparel and accessories for the family, all designed to mix and match.

Sale prices for accessory and apparel items range from US$8.40 for a girls' glitter crown headband to $30.80 for a women's plaid peplum top and $35 for a men's puffer vest, while home décor items start at $11 for a cable-knit stocking.

The company is working with a targeted list of "savvy mom influencers" on Instagram who Harris says have an eye for tradition, photography, and fashion to unveil the brand in what she calls a natural, organic way.

Launched seven years ago, Instagram is home to a global community of more than 800m, including 25m businesses and 2m advertisers. In the UK alone, Instagram boasts some 23m users.

The photo sharing app has proven popular with apparel brands and retailers of late who are beginning to recognise its potential for boosting sales.

Global fitness brand Reebok has made its social lifestyle content shoppable for the first time, while last year nFlate, makers of the mobile apparel marketplace app See It Buy It (SiBi), revealed a feature that enables users to shop for apparel based on visual attributes from the feeds of influencers on Instagram.

In addition, UK-based online fashion retailer Asos has launched a tool that enables shoppers to search for clothes and accessories using photos - including Instagram posts - as part of a heavy investment to improve site infrastructure, drive agility and speed up innovation.

Instagram recently rolled out its 'Shopping in Stories' feature worldwide, expanding the technology - which allows users to view and buy products directly through the photo-sharing app - to 46 countries.