A Rare JC Penney “in-Store” Experience: What a Positive Change

I don’t shop much. I generally don’t like malls. If I must shop, I prefer to do so online or at smaller, easy to navigate boutique stores.

That said, yesterday’s quick visit to a Madison JC Penney (Twitter) store was a surprisingly pleasant experience.

Here’s why:

1. The store was easy to navigate. It now features clean sight lines, simple to observe colors and styles surrounded by an interior that is easy on the eyes.

2. Prices were reasonably easy to find. Some stores work hard to place the tag in a difficult to find location.

3. The checkout process was fast and painless. Our customer service representative used a traditional cash register and credit card reader. I did not see any handheld devices.

4. I assume that the clothes quality is “good enough”. We shall see.

I contrast this experience with my last visit to Macys. The aisles were small and crowded. At over 6′ tall, I can easily bump into racks and clothes, often sending them to the floor or disrupting the pile. Macys had loads of clutter, which made navigation a challenge, not to mention the negative overall experience.

I don’t shop often….

Sometimes, the guy that “breaks the glass” is jettisoned due to the organizational disruption caused by the required changes. Ousted CEO Ron Johnson’s plans may be proven correct, but perhaps the path was a bit too tortuous for shareholders and possibly the staff.

Counterpoint by Virginia Postrel.

One hopes that JC Penney management continues to improve customer experience and not revert to the retail morass of so many others. I write as an “underwater” shareholder.

Wikipedia on James Cash Penney.

A history of real estate voyeurism

Jason Farago:

here is nowhere left to live in New York. Trust me, I know. Fewer apartments are on the market today in the city than at any time since records began, and if you want one you’d better be able to put up the cash. Manhattan, converted these past 20 years into an antiseptic (that’s Giuliani’s doing) luxury goods emporium (that’s Bloomberg’s), has long been out of reach; the leafier areas of Brooklyn were colonized in the last decade by brunching hordes willing to pay seven figures to live in ironic imitation of their immigrant grandparents. Even Brooklyn’s drearier northern stretches have become the territory of the 1 percent over the past five years. The first to fall was Williamsburg, a character-free, formerly working-class neighborhood now populated by bankers who pay more for the privilege of living in a gritty outer borough than they would for a place downtown. Then came nasty Greenpoint, which sits alongside a fetid, carcinogen-spewing creek. Now it’s the turn of apocalyptic Bushwick, which you should avoid visiting at all costs and where otherwise professional people pack themselves cheek-by-jowl into spaces that resemble badly administered refugee camps, but with an artisanal ramen shop next door.

A Long Way From Tractors

John Lamm:

After becoming a wealthy industrialist in the 1950s, mainly through the success of his tractor company, Ferruccio Lamborghini was indulging his lifelong love of automobiles and buying Italy’s best: Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Maserati and, of course, Ferrari.

There are two versions of what happened next. One, according to an interview published in 1991 in a British magazine, Thoroughbred and Classic Cars, is that Lamborghini was insulted by Enzo Ferrari after complaining of a weak clutch in a car he’d bought: “Lamborghini, you may be able to drive a tractor, but you will never be able to handle a Ferrari properly.”

Property of the state: housing policy

Jim Pickard:

Socialism is a dirty word in many parts of the US. After all, America is a global symbol of free markets, muscular capitalism and the small state. Yet somehow the government has turned its mortgage market into a giant nationalised enterprise on a par with China’s Red Army or Britain’s National Health Service.

US mortgage finance vehicle Fannie Mae, created by Franklin D Roosevelt to drag the US out of the Great Depression, underwrote around one in five mortgages during the 1940s. It was seen as the archetype of Keynesian intervention. Yet Roosevelt’s efforts have been eclipsed by those made by 21st-century governments around the world to pull their economies out of the post-credit crunch tailspin.

Today, in the US, almost nine out of 10 mortgages issued in the US are subsidised by the state through a bewildering array of state-sponsored groups. They include Freddie Mac, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the 12 Federal Home Loan Banks and Fannie itself. Housing, in other words, has become an arm of the state.

One of these groups, the Federal Housing Administration, is so integral to the market that without it prices could have fallen a further 25 per cent, according to Moody’s Analytics.

And at the same time the Federal Reserve is soaking up some $40bn of mortgage debt a month – through “quantitative easing” – with more than one eye on the housing market.

Tesla: The Future is Now

Ed Wallace:

“How come some tiny little California startup, run by guys who know nothing about the car business, can do this, and we can’t?” – General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, Newsweek, Dec. 22, 2007

In the last week of March I made my annual trip down to see my financial advisor, Josh Foster at Wells Fargo, to deal with my retirement accounts. I’ve known him for decades and, because his in-laws were among the finest individuals for whom I’d ever had the pleasure of handling automotive needs, I was a guest at his wedding. (We had a close enough relationship that I provided numerous vehicles for family members coming in from out of town for the wedding.)

Typically these annual trips don’t take much time. We talk for a few minutes, I write the check, and it’s over. I try to take as little of his time as necessary, because I know he’s extremely busy and I have no great investment plans to discuss. But this year was different; I no more got into his office than, for the very first time, he asked me an automotive question: “Have you reviewed a Tesla yet?”

Two Weeks, Two New Teslas
He was referring to the new Tesla S electric car, from the company founded by Internet billionaire Elon Musk. In fact I hadn’t reviewed it. But I have closely watched that company since its founding a decade ago. Personally, I’ve marveled at the visionary genius of what Musk has accomplished, but I also have a businessman’s appreciation for his company’s likely long-term capability of success.

The Native Advertising Matrix

Felix Salmon:

None of these distinctions is hard and fast, of course, but at least it’s a start; basically, it all comes down to who writes the content in question.

Was the material written by a professional journalist, writing a piece for an editorial outlet? In that case, any advertising message embedded within it falls pretty squarely into the realm of public relations. But what happens when the publication in question syndicates that content for use on some brand’s website? In that event, it becomes content marketing: independently-produced material, repurposed by the brand in question.

On the other hand, was the material commissioned by the brand itself, rather than any editor? In that case, it’s sponsored content. It might be written by a group on the ad-sales side of the publisher; such groups have existed for as long as there have been advertorials. Or it might be written by some group within the brand’s ad agency. The distinction between sponsored content and native advertising is a bit squishy, but it you do need to make a distinction, then I’d say that sponsored content is material designed simply to convey information to the readership of the publication in question, while native content tends to aspire more to going viral, and being actively shared by that readership.

Great Problems: The Rent Seeking Economy


In a healthy society, people acquire wealth by making stuff people want. Farmers till a plots to provide for their nutritional wants. Workers assemble motorcycles for consumers who pay money because they find the motor bikes valuable. Perhaps the worker serves a philanthropic organization and earns a salary by serving the official goal of the organization. Or perhaps the worker earns money by creating crafts that others in the community value.

A society structured as the above has two great benefits. First, incentives are aligned to produce more output. A person can only acquire wealth by producing wealth. Thus the production of wealth is encouraged, as man’s natural greed is channeled towards productive ends. Second, humans are innately goal seeking creatures. It makes us fundamentally happy to strive towards a goal – whether that goal be winning a football game, learning a new song on the piano, leveling up in Warcraft, or producing a product that people want.

In a dysfunctional society, people acquire wealth via corruption, rent seeking, and theft. Perhaps they steal it at the point of a sword. Perhaps they acquire wealth through outright corruption. Perhaps they acquire wealth through holding a position in a completely dysfunctional management structure that requires internal politicking and Kabuki make work rather than actual performance.

As Adam Smith wrote, “there is a great deal of ruin in a nation” Corruption has always existed in America. But in the past decades it seems as if the dominant paradigm has shifted, so now more and more income comes via dysfunctional rent seeking rather the net creation of new wealth. 1

A most severe case of a rent seeking economy was described by the historian Rostovtvzeff, who wrote of the late Roman empire: