Chapter 8: Batten s Ascent

Maynard would have his amicable revenge for the rose bush quash by failing to get New York approval on a far more important merchandising issue ”thereby actually gaining it.

The Hidden Ball Trick

The third time the name of Batten was on New York lips was the result of a serious competitive problem suffered by all Penney stores, but especially those in larger urban areas. Maynard, among others, had complained about it for years . But more than one New York Office executive commented that only with the advent of Mil Batten in Lansing had a simple and easily implemented solution been forthcoming. The following letter arrived in New York addressed to the head man, Earl Sams. It was signed by Maynard, but everyone who read the letter thought that Mil Batten had probably written it.

Dear Earl,

More than any other thing, of course, the autonomy of the J. C. Penney manager is what built this great company. Therefore, please note that in no way does the following proposal violate the cardinal rule of manager control. The plan proposed below is voluntary and could be canceled at any time.

To review, presently buyers must recommend fast-moving style merchandise on price lists from which managers then make their selections. At this point, our competitors in value fashions are already selling what we have just selected ”making J. C. Penney non-competitive.

Therefore, we propose that managers voluntarily assign a portion of their open-to-buy to the buyer of selected, fastmoving lines. The buyer is free to use this to buy and ship on the spot. If the manager dislikes the buyer's performance, the open -to-buy assignment is simply canceled.

Viewing this as a safe and progressive concept, we respectfully request its presentation to the Operating Committee.


"But, oh, how they hated the idea in New York," Batten recalled. "Everybody was afraid that, over time, the sacred power of the Penney store manager would be compromised and eventually eliminated. They were afraid that this plan would be expanded and evolve into centralized merchandising. I always thought this was way overreacting. Without diminishing the managers' authority, in years to come the company would develop many ways to speed product to market. Anyway, at the time they rejected the idea.

"But can you imagine how we made up for the lost profit in rose bushes?" Batten chuckled. "We were used to being turned down in Lansing, so we had anticipated New York's reaction and prepared a second letter."

Dear Earl,

Of course, we accept the Operating Committee's decision regarding all store managers.

We wondered, however, if we in Lansing might adopt the plan for our own exclusive use? You could observe our results as a test case.

With that request, let me remind you that there is no other Penney store manager who values his autonomy and responsibility (and rewards) more than I do!


"We knew it would be a burden for New York to allow that for just one store," remembered Batten. "But, I guess, in order to keep us quiet they agreed to do it, and from that time on Maynard was weeks ahead of any other Penney store in value fashions. But even though this resulted in a spike in Lansing profits, New York kept a lid on the idea." [1]

[1] Times and priorities change. As the consumer became more sophisticated, the merchandising talent and taste of Penney managers became suspect. After JCPenney's downfall, the first major project begun by the new management in 2000 was stripping managers of any buying authority. Instead, the buying function was centralized and strengthened with more expertise.

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.
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