Albuquerque: Hello and Good-bye


Stores! Neppl was a store man, [3] and his career with J. C. Penney followed the curve of the company's growth in terms of stores. He served in nearly all of the historical store configurations except for the very first like Kemmerer and Cumberland. The stores in Carroll and Columbus were the classic Penney Main Street layouts that blanketed small-town America from the 1920s until the 1950s, when the company began a major transformation. He also worked in the big and really big operations in Colorado Springs and Denver, respectively. One of the new prototype suburban stores (finally) came his way, and later, in the company's move off Main Street, he would oversee opening strip-center full-line stores. Eventually, he was also to play a significant role in establishing the Penney anchor stores that led the malling of America.

So, for all of that, one would think that a few years of fulfillment as a model Penney store manager would grace his rsum. It never happened . Walt Neppl became held in such high regard by the company's upper management that no one wanted to isolate his talent and energy in a single store. Instead, they would see him saving or developing several stores at once. He just didn't know this for a while.

In 1953 Neppl was awarded a new Albuquerque suburban layout that was just being completed. He got to trim it, stock it, hire in his staff, shake it down, and open it. Told he probably wouldn't make a profit for several months, from day one the store had an 8 to 10 percent profit, outstanding for any Penney operation. Walt got a comp check for $3,800 covering just the last three months of 1953 (a lot of money then). And everyone on 34th Street and in the region and in the district was really watching Neppl nowas the Walt and Marian bought a house and a horse and made some lifelong friends .

And Walt remained unaware of the light that shone upon him. Ten months after opening his store, Neppl saw New York executive Cece Wright standing on the sidewalk one morningunannounced. "Mr. Wright, I wasn't expecting you. Good morning!"

"Well, I was headed from Tulsa to Phoenix and thought I should stop by and see how you do it."

"Then come on in and look around."

They toured the store, Wright hearing Neppl's staff enthusiastically describe what was selling. Then, summoning Marian, Wright took the Neppls to a good restaurant. In the middle of lunch , the executive cleared his throat and got right to the point. "We have something in mind, folks, something new. The upshot is that I'd like you to move to Pittsburgh."

" Pittsburgh? " said Neppl, looking around at Marian, who was speechless. "But we just got here, the store isn't opened a year yet."

"I know. It's a little fast. And we know how you love it here."

"What if Marian doesn't like Pittsburgh? We just bought a house."

"Well, we know we're asking a lot. But it's a good promotion, Walt."

"DM?"

"More like troubleshooter. We want you to work only on new stores, stores that are opening up out of Atlanta and in the Eastern zone. Then maybe fit in some problem stores as you can."

"I don't know, Mr. Wright."

"Cece."

"Well, Cece, is a DM gonna be happy when this young guy comes in from New Mexico to work his own district?"

"We'll make sure everybody's on the same page on that."

"A lot of travel, too."

"Yes, but I tell you what. If you and Marian don't like Pittsburghand I think you'll be surprised, but if you don't, and if you've done the job we think you willthen we'll move you back West in due time."

"I don't know," Neppl repeated, clearly crestfallen and not hiding it. "I finally get my store, and we're doing well, and not even a year goes by, and away we go."

Marian Neppl, still getting the family established in Albuquerque, was a trouper. "Walt, that's a fair offer."

"Consider yourselves flattered, too," Wright smiled. "The company thinks you're worth a lot more responsibility."

Marian squeezed Walt's hand as he replied, "Sure. Thanks. I appreciate it, of course."

They could put up with the Pittsburgh weather, but the house someone rented for them was a far cry from what they left behind in Albuquerque. They soldiered into the transfer, however, and Marian began reestablishing the family of six (including their new baby)new schools , new dentist, new pediatrician, new household resources, new Penney and neighborhood and community networking, on and on. And Walt hit the road. He was gone early every Monday morning, returning late every Friday evening. After several months one of their neighbors approached Marian on a Monday morning and spoke sympathetically. "You know, Marian, Buddy and me like you guys, and we sure hope Walt gets lucky and gets a better job."

Although for some time he kept dreaming about it, Walt Neppl's store-managing days were over.

[3] With a difference. Neppl understood the importance of the merchandise department function. In fact, he headed up the department in the late 1960s (a "developmental" move en route to the presidency). A retired merchandise executive wrote that Neppl "was a forceful executive who did an adequate job there" high praise indeed considering the bitter rivalry between most of the New York merchandise department and the field (stores), whence Neppl had risen.




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

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