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Lessons Learned from the Downfall of an American Retail Institution

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Founded in 1902 by James Cash Penny, the original "Golden Rule Store" in Kemmerer, Wyoming quickly expanded to 34 stores within a decade.  One of the truly great American success stories, the JCPenny Company continually expanded across the nation with 70,000 employees to become the largest retail organization of its kind in the world.

The company pioneered several sales tools that would later become standard such as credit purchasing, a catalog mail-order business, and internet shopping. JCPenny also diversified to incorporate auto centers, drug stores, appliances, and hardware.

It was perhaps this over-expansion including attempts to launch stores in Europe that contributed to the company's accumulation of a large debt load during the ultra-high interest period of the 1980s.

JCPenny's continuous re-branding, leadership changes, and shifting marketing strategies began to alienate its core customer base which was 70% women and largely fashion purchasing consumers.

Close to $5 billion in highly leveraged debt by 2016, and continuing to sell off many of its assets, the company officially closed all its stores in April of 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdown and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy the following month.  

Delisted from the NYSE, JCPenny is now privately owned by Simon Property Group  (SPG) - Get Simon Property Group Inc. Report and Brookfield Asset Management  (BAM) - Get Brookfield Asset Management Inc. Report.

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