J.C. Penney Thinks Big

J.C. Penney Co. is aiming to be a major player in a growing market niche — men’s big and tall — that is estimated to be a $6 billion-plus annual business. The segment is expected to grow 25% in the next decade. 


The chain’s new specialty menswear concept, The Foundry Big & Tall Supply Co., made its retail debut in May, opening 10 stores in a mix of in-mall and lifestyle centers in the Dallas and Kansas City, Mo., regions. By 2013, the fledgling business is expected to have expanded to 100 locations, with the number expected to triple to 300 stores within five years. 


The Foundry is the first initiative from Penney’s Growth Brands Division, launched in late 2010 to pursue high-potential opportunities in retail. Growth Brands initiatives have no external association with — and are separate from — the company’s namesake brand. But they are able to leverage Penney’s logistics, IT, merchandising, marketing, planning and allocation, and other back-office capabilities. 


The new concept offers an extensive head-to-toe assortment of menswear, with sportswear in sizes 1XL to 6XL and XLT to 5XLT and suits up to size 54L. (Even more extended sizes are available on the company’s website.) Shoes run from 10 regular to 16 wide. Price points range from $20 to $35 for a T-shirt to $175 to $200 for specialty suit coats. 


The selection includes casual, contemporary and traditional styles, and combines the retailer’s own private brand (mostly basics) with such national brands as Calvin Klein, Cole Haan, Geoffrey Beene, Levi’s, Callaway, Izod, Timberland and Marc Ecko Cut & Sew. Licensed team apparel and active wear give each store a local feel. 


Key to The Foundry’s strategy, and its appeal, is its distinctive shopping environment, which is designed to make big and tall men feel comfortable. The store design was a collaborative effort between Penney and the Seattle-based retail design firm Callison.


“Inspired by the look of a microbrewery, The Foundry Big & Tall Supply Co. stores feature an urban, industrial design where customers can relax, enjoy themselves and shop some of the biggest names in menswear — in sizes that fit,” said Steve Lossing, president, The Foundry Big & Tall Supply Co., Plano, Texas. A 20-year menswear veteran, Lossing has served with Penney in various management roles since 2002. 


With an average footprint of approximately 5,000 sq. ft., The Foundry has an urban, industrial look, with concrete and wood flooring, brick walls, exposed ceilings, and steel and wood fixtures. The space has a masculine feel, enhanced by such accents as big-screen televisions tuned to sports programming and a poker table. 


“In determining the design attitude, we identified familiar places where the big and tall guy feels comfortable,” Lossing explained.


The layout is divided into three distinct areas: the porch, the lounge and the loft. Customers enter through a porch area, which has open, exposed ceilings, and tile floors with a concrete look and feel. The modern collections are merchandised on one side of the floor, and traditional collections are on the other. This area also houses a bar-inspired customer service center and checkout.


The middle of the interior houses the lounge.


“It’s a great area for customers to hang out and relax, with worn wood floors and walls, and a drop-down ceiling with large, comfortable club chairs and ottomans, a large flat-screen TV and a unique poker table fixture,” Lossing said. T-shirts, denim/jeans and shorts also are merchandised in this area.


One of the most unusual design elements is the fitting room area, or “Tank Room,” which is located across from the lounge. 


“There are three fitting rooms, and they have the industrial appearance of large copper cylindrical brewery tanks, with sliding doors and piping handles,” Lossing said. 


The back third of the store, the loft, has open, exposed ceilings and a large red brick back wall featuring The Foundry logo. In addition to shoes, accessories and other goods, this area offers licensed team apparel and active wear — and a second large flat-screen TV.