JC Penney's next big bet a bit of a head scratcher

Have you ever been browsing the shelves at J.C. Penney and thought to yourself, boy, I need a new haircut? Probably not. But the department store is hoping to change that by reinventing its 850 salons across the U.S.

In a new partnership with Time Inc.-owned fashion magazine InStyle, Penney's will rebrand its salons into a "modern, cutting-edge salon concept" called The Salon by InStyle. The retailer will launch the project with 15 pilot locations this summer, with the nationwide rollout planned for 2016.

The first 15 locations will be in Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Los Angeles.

JCPenney Salon
Source: JCPenney

"As more women experience the services provided at The Salon by InStyle, it will reinforce JCPenney as an all-inclusive destination for head-to-toe style," said Amiee Thomas, vice president of salon at Penney's.

The updated salons are a strategic move designed to get shoppers in the store more frequently. According to the retailer, its salon customers typically visit the store eight times a year and spend twice as much as the average customer.

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This isn't the first time Penney's has upgraded a major category to give it a more high-fashion feel. In 2011 it rebranded its bridal jewelry line under the name Modern Bride, through a collaboration with the former Condé Nast magazine.

One of Penney's other high-fashion beauty bets, putting Sephora shop-in-shops inside its locations, has paid off big for the retailer. In the company's most recent earnings report, CEO Mike Ullman said Sephora "continues to deliver double-digit growth, drive traffic and generate significant customer loyalty."

He also said the beauty shops will be an important part of Penney's growth for the next several years.

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J.C. Penney is in the midst of attempting a turnaround, after former CEO Ron Johnson's failed reinvention of the store fell flat with shoppers and investors. The recovery has begun to gain traction, evidenced in the Penney's comparable-store sales growth of 3.7 percent over the holidays compared to the prior year.

Analysts, however, remain cautious as to whether the retailer can maintain this positive momentum as sales comparisons become more difficult.