BRADENTON -- The JCPenney department store at DeSoto Square mall in Bradenton will unveil a new look Thursday aimed at lifting sales in time for the holiday shopping season.
The changes include a new floor layout anchored by clusters the retailer calls "hard shops" that separate the merchandise by individual brands instead of merchandise categories.
The design is part of a corporate strategy by the nation's fourth-largest department store chain to turn around a 23 percent slide in net sales for the latest quarter that ended in July.
So far, customers are taking to the idea, said Store Manager Greg Sapp.
"What we're seeing is the younger customers especially appreciate it because it's more open," he said. "That's traditionally not what you see in department stores, especially this time of year when there's a lot of product on the floor."
The face-lift began in January when workers at the 60,000-square-foot store in Bradenton began rearranging isles, hangers and shelves.
Seven hard shops were then constructed in August, highlighting brands like Levi's, Izod and Arizona. More are expected to follow at the start of next year.
Each mini shop was designed to be just that -- a cluster of brand merchandise that separates itself from the rest of the store with different light fixtures, product placement and even flooring.
Each brand had a corporate say in how their shop would look.
Even items that now don't have their own hard shop have been arranged in similar branding clusters, with space buffers in between.
Following some finishing touches, the store will unveil the changes during a ribbon cutting ceremony and grand reopening at 9:45 a.m. Thursday.
"Eventually the entire store is going to be like this," Sapp said. "We're slowly getting there now."
The Plano, Texas-based retailer already has added Levi Strauss & Co. denim bars and at least five other mini-shops in 683 stores across the country. Some will have a similar reopening Thursday.
JCPenney will eventually have as many as 100 different shops in its larger stores and change out 25 of them every year to keep up with fashion trends, CEO Ron Johnson told inves
tors during a presentation last month.
He said the new shops are already doing better than the rest of the store.
The company is banking on the concept to lure shoppers back into its doors this holiday season after posting a $147 million net loss in its first quarter.
Officials also hope the store changes will spike traffic at DeSoto Square mall, which has been listed for sale after current owner Simon Property Group fell delinquent on its $61.9 million loan.
An unnamed buyer has reportedly signed a letter of intent to acquire the mall, but that deal has been delayed over negotiations on the assumption of debt, according to the Trepp real estate database.
"I think it will be a good change," Mall Manager Tonya Merrill said of JCPenney, one of its three anchors. "It's new. It's fresh. It's a great add to the mall and our collection (of stores)."
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.