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J.C. Penney hopes home is where the profits are

J.C. Penney is continuing its image overhaul, this time by focusing on the home department. It is transforming stores into "mini-malls" featuring boutique brand names.

By Anne D'InnocenzioAP Retail Writer / April 1, 2013

J.C Penney provided this sneak peek into a new Jonathan Adler section in its home department. The struggling department store chain is set to unveil the overhauled home departments on Friday, April 5.

Chris Rupert / J.C. Penney / AP

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NEW YORK

J.C. Penney is honing in on its home department as part of a bigger plan to turn its stores into mini-malls of sorts.

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The struggling department-store chain is unveiling revamped home areas within its stores that feature 20 boutiques that highlight 50 new brands. The areas will include an eclectic mix of items, from $60 Michael Graves' stainless steel teakettles to $1,850 Jonathan Adler "Happy Chic" sofas.

The home areas, which Penney will begin to roll out Friday at 500 of its 1,100 stores, will test CEO Ron Johnson's plan to open separate shops-within-stores for popular designers. The format, which gives department stores more of a mini-mall feel, have been popular at higher-end rivals such as Macy's and Bloomingdale's for years.

Penney, which already has rolled out mini shops-within-stores for popular clothing designers like Joe Fresh, hopes the new home areas will help it woo back shoppers. The chain is struggling to rebound its business after losing a quarter of its revenue and amassing nearly $1 billion in losses in the past year since it began tweaking everything from its pricing to its stores. The revamp of the home areas presents a big opportunity for the retailer to regain its footing.

While home sections typically are among the least profitable of a department store, they help to drive customers into the store. And demand for home furnishings is rebounding along with the U.S. housing market: Sales of furniture and home decor reached $92.9 billion last year, up 7.8 percent from the low of $86.2 billion in 2009 during the recession, according to spending tracker MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse.

"It's going to be a struggle, but the home area could generate some momentum," says Walter Loeb, a New York-based independent retail consultant.

But Penney, based in Plano Texas, has its work cut out for it. Penney was planning to anchor its home areas with the Martha Stewart lifestyle brand. But the company is fighting in court with Macy's over whether Macy's has exclusive rights to sell certain Martha Stewart products like bedding, cookware and bath items.

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