J.C. Penney, founded in 1913, counted itself among the primary retailers and catalog companies in the U.S. for decades. But under CEO Myron Ullman III, who took over in 2004, its revenue began to slide, dropping from $19.9 billion in 2007 to $17.3 billion in 2011. Earnings fell from $1.1 billion to a loss of $152 million in the same period. J.C. Penney’s share price has fallen 70% in five years. By way of contrast, the shares of Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) and Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) — two direct competitors — have been essentially flat over the same period. Penney was challenged by these two companies and several others, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST). Problems became so severe that J.C. Penney closed its formerly successful catalog business and reached outside for a new CEO. The board’s choice was Apple Retail Chief Ron Johnson, who was picked in June 2011. Johnson changed the company’s pricing structure, but the reaction was so poor that revenue dropped an extraordinary 20.1% to $3.2 billion in the first fiscal quarter. J.C. Penney posted a loss of $163 million. Internet sales, so essential in a world in which Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) has become a significant presence, fell 27.9% to $271 million. By contrast, Macy’s sales rose 4.3% to $6.1 billion in the last reported quarter. And Macy’s is hardly J.C. Penney’s largest competitor by revenue or workforce. Walmart’s sales were $450 billion last year, while Costco’s were $89 billion.
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