Roses at J. C. Penney

While Jack Maynard rarely involved himself with merchandise per se, his personal tastes often found expression in his store (and caused displeasure in New York). For example, he loved to garden. In the spring and fall he worked the black dirt at his Lansing residence, and summers he did wonders with the sandy soil of northern Michigan. Raising roses was his specialty. One day in the spring Batten was called outside to the sidewalk, where, much to his surprise, a nurseryman was unloading balled rose bushes.

"Mr. Baton?" mispronounced the nurseryman, holding out a delivery slip. "You want these inside or what?"

"I have to check," said Batten. "Be right back." In a moment he was at the manager's door, poking his head inside. "Are we in the nursery business, Jack?"

"Ah, Mil," Maynard said, rising . "They're here? Did I get a little carried away? I thought a spring rose bush sale might make sense. That's excellent stock and the price is right, but if you don't like it I'll send them back."

"It isn't a matter of liking or disliking," Batten grinned. "It's the DM and New York having a conniption fit."

"Don't worry about them. What they don't know won't hurt them. But what do you think?"

Batten shrugged and said, "I don't know. I guess we could see how they sell."

This horticultural event became the second of four reasons that Mil Batten came to the active attention of Penney's eastern poohbahs. While a wag in the New York Office labeled it "The War of the Roses," hardly anyone else in Penney's hierarchy took this breach whimsically. The fundamental strengths of the chain lay in its core credo, its shoulder-to-shoulder uniformity , and economies of scale. J. C. Penney stores, with few exceptions, sold apparel, shoes, and soft goods, period . Only certain managers in the system ever challenged this limit on entrepreneurial imagination . Homer Torrey in Denver was the most notorious, but Jack Maynard frequently managed to be bothersome as well.

As one of the store managers who usually made as much or more money than the New York brass, Maynard had always felt a bit constricted and hemmed in by company policy in this regard. He never sold anything on the side for his own purse, always declaring inventory and revenue precisely every year. He just felt that even though he wasn't much of a merchandiser, the addition of a little spice and variation to the norm was healthy ”and perhaps profitable. Over the years he continued to have his fun.

Hence, one of the front windows was dressed with rose bushes and signage, and a display of bushes was built near the shoe department at the rear of the first floor. Just inside the front entrance , Batten was placing an easel with a poster he had asked the store visual man to letter:

A rose by any other name will smell
as sweet in your own garden!

rose bush sale: rear

Maynard approached and said, "Ah, very nice, Mil." He nodded at the poster, saying, "Except the Bard may be spinning in his grave over the liberties you take."

"You know Shakespeare, then?"

Maynard held up his right hand like a hammy performer and raised his voice, reciting, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Batten began polite applause and was joined by Mrs. Elsie at the hosiery counter as customers looked on with unsure smiles. Maynard bowed and continued on his floor rounds.

An ad in the paper that afternoon completed the promotion. The next morning when Batten opened the store, a crowd was waiting. They ended up having to reorder from Maynard's contact several times. But while the spring rose bush sale was a smash hit, John Parker, the Penney district manager, made one of his unannounced visits and had the predictable reaction. A critical report went to New York, followed immediately by a telegram to Maynard from Bill Binzen, Penney's vice president and general merchandise manager:

Jack Maynard Manager
J C Penney Co
Lansing Michigan

The Company Does Not
Sell Rose Bushes Stop

Which Means Lansing
Stop Which Means
Cease And Desist Stop


Again, the manager asked his first man what he thought.

"Well, Jack, they're selling like crazy, and on this item alone we're making up for last year's loss."

"We are?" grinned Maynard.


"So what do you recommend?"

"Well, I say what the hell. Let's play this as long as we can."

Maynard just laughed and said, "Okay." Then he wadded up the telegram and tossed it over his shoulder. "Did you see a telegram around here?" he asked. "I think they must have misdelivered it somewhere else."

"Must have," said Batten.

Word of the continuing promotion, of course, got to Parker and he let New York know. Maynard received a registered, airmail, special delivery letter ordering him to dispatch Batten to a meeting of the Operating Committee so that they might be fully apprised of this intransigence .

A highly amused Maynard immediately put Mil Batten on a train. "The trouble with New York," he chuckled, "is they can't see the forest for the rules." It was Batten's first trip to New York and an otherwise unique moment. Never before in company history had a first man, one of perhaps 2,000, been called on the carpet in front of Penney senior management: CEO Earl Sams, COO Al Hughes, chairman Penney himself, Bill Binzen, and others. Corporations, even the great ones like this, sometimes do the silliest things.

"Well," smiled Batten upon returning two days later, "it was pretty much of a one-way conversation." Maynard was beaming and began to laugh under his breath . "They're really angry , Jack," Batten continued, unable to hide his own amusement . "Selling bushes " He had to stop and catch his breath. "Selling bushes is against company polisee "

Batten and then Maynard burst out laughing. Next door, the secretary and cashier were puzzled at the jovial racket, and even associates downstairs looked at one another quizzically. When the laughter subsided, Maynard managed to ask, "Well, what do you want to do ?"

"I think we'd better quit! "

Again the secretary, cashier and people downstairs wondered what was so funny . And from the sound of it, they must have wished they had been in on the joke as well. In short order, the remaining stock was sold, the window dressing and display were struck, and the easeled poster was changed to read:

A rose by any other name will smell as sweet
in your own garden! But NOT here!
We are SOLD OUT! Sorry!

rose bush sale: over

Celebration of Fools. An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
Celebration of Fools: An Inside Look at the Rise and Fall of JCPenney
ISBN: 0814471595
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 177
Authors: Bill Hare © 2008-2017.
If you may any questions please contact us: