J.C. Penny Steps Up Cooks With Launch Of Signature Line

PLANO, TX— The recent launch of J.C. Penney’s Cooks Signature assortment not only moves the retailer’s proprietary housewares brand up market, but also signals its continued effort to expand the presence of private brands in home and other departments across the store.

The Cooks Signature line debuted in September as part of J.C. Penney’s home catalog, and includes two hard anodized cookware sets— 11-piece and 14-piece– sale priced at $179.99 and $199.99, respectively, a selection of small electrics and a 15-piece knife set with storage block.

“Home is an important growth category and the addition of Cooks Signature to our J.C. Penney home portfolio enables us to appeal to a wide customer base seeking quality design and construction at an attainable price,” said John Tighe, J.C. Penney’s chief merchant, in a press release.

While Cooks has been part of J.C. Penney’s roster of housewares brands since 2005, the recent launch of Signature provides shoppers with what officials with the retailer said is an “elevated” assortment of housewares.

In addition to the cookware sets that are sale priced just shy of $200, new Cooks Signature kitchen appliances rolling into stores in mid-October include an 8-quart slow cooker, stainless steel toaster, 14-cup coffeemaker and six-slice convection oven sale priced between $59.99 and $99.99.

Housewares suppliers familiar with J.C. Penney told HOMEWORLD BUSINESS® that the Cooks Signature line is indicative of efforts by the retailer to expand its upmarket assortment of products across housewares.

In fact, the retailer’s September home catalog that showcased the Signature line also included housewares at higher prices then has been seen from J.C. Penney more recently. Higher priced housewares in the catalog included, for example, a Blendtec blender for $499.99, a Zojirushi rice cooker for $189.99 and a Circulon 11-piece hard-anodized cookware set for $299.99.

The addition of new products under Cooks could be the first step in a plan by Penney to give its private label brand greater presence within housewares.

At its recent analyst meeting, Tighe said, “We are focused on driving private brands and exclusive brands to 65% to 70% of our business by 2018. Last year, we were at 52%.”

While he did not offer specifics on future growth plans for Cooks, he said, “Our private brand Cooks coupled with national brands provide the value and selection the consumer is looking for.”

Company officials have also noted that an increase in private brands is expected to have a positive impact on the company financially and level the competitive playing field.

“We believe our private brands help us to drive customer value while protecting gross profit,” said Marvin Ellison, J.C. Penney chairman and CEO, during the company’s analyst meeting. “It also gives us the ability to create differentiation to compete more effectively with traditional competitors as well as pure play e-commerce retailers.”

Sources inside the housewares industry said driving J.C. Penney’s effort to expand its private label assortment is its desire to not only differentiate from other department stores, but also provide shoppers a selection of products that cannot be found on e-commerce outlets, notably Amazon.com.

The debut of Cooks Signature is also the latest in a string of moves by J.C. Penney to overhaul its home selection in an effort to differentiate from other retailers, and also capture the attention of women shopping its stores for apparel, cosmetics and other goods.

J.C. Penney has rolled out an assortment of major appliances to more than 500 locations, added a selection of furniture from Ashley and has piloted a program with Empire flooring.

Officials with the retailer noted that initial returns on the small appliance launch have been positive.

“We have learned that more than one-third of our appliance customers were new to J.C. Penney and approximately 70% were women,” Tighe said during the retailer’s recent analyst meeting. “The MAM [Modern American Woman] is comfortable shopping for appliances at J.C. Penney and we can help her refresh her home.”