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Smart Cents: How J.C. Penney Built An Empire
Penney once said that there were no secrets to his success, but that the principles of business were simple: “In retailing, the formula happens to be a basic liking for human beings, plus integrity, plus industry, plus the ability to see the other fellow’s point of view.” In 1920, the J.C. Penney Company had over 197 stores along the West coast. Just nine years later, that number had grown to more than 1,400 stores across the country; new stores had been opening at a rapid rate of almost one every three days. Today, the company has grown to be one of the nation’s largest retailers. By the time Penney died at the age of 95, sales for the company he had helped grow finally reached the $5 billion mark. How did he do it?
Service: Penney initially went to work for the Golden Rule Stores for one reason: he agreed in principle with their name. Being brought up with religious values and parents who preached to him the Golden Rule of treating others how you wish to be treated served Penney well in the business world. By placing a heavy emphasis on customer service, J.C. Penney stores were able to expand rapidly based on their reputation alone.
Charity: By the time he passed away, Penney had given away millions of dollars in charitable gifts. But, he did not only do it because he had a good heart. Penney was an astute businessman who understood that making his company visible in the community, and building a reputation of commitment and charity, simply made good business sense.
Staff: Penney was a busy man, but never too busy to miss out on the interview process when it came to finding people to work for his company. From personally interviewing all of his associates, to providing them with free business courses and traveling nationwide to all of his stores to personally motivate his staff, Penney was willing to do whatever it took to find and keep the best on board his team.
Saving: Penney knew what it meant to be frugal. He grew up in a poor household and learned early on the importance of cutting costs wherever possible. It was with that attitude that Penney ran his stores. From choosing inexpensive locations to creating simple store interiors and using as few resources as were necessary, Penney focused on cutting costs instead of raising prices to make his profit.
Goals: Nobody in Kemmerer, Wyoming thought Penney could do it – open a cash-only store in a town that was used to relying on credit from the mining company. But, Penney knew he could prove them wrong. Once he had set his goal, he knew there was no turning back. He was going to achieve it at any cost. “When I went to Kemmerer in 1902, I had no idea that [in 1921] we would have 313 stores...but that didn't prevent me from doing my best and working with all my might,” he said. “Geniuses themselves don't talk about the gift of genius; they just talk about hard work and long hours.”
Today, thanks to the vision and dedication of this poor farm boy from Missouri, millions of customers around the world have been able to enjoy the J.C. Penney experience.
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