J.C. Penney on Thursday said that James Starke, who led menswear there for more than 13 years, according to his LinkedIn page, has been replaced by Jeff Useforge, who has been promoted from vice president and divisional merchandise manager of men’s, big and tall, activewear and team.
Useforge’s new title is senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s and children’s, the retailer confirmed to Retail Dive in an email. The switch was first reported by Women’s Wear Daily on Wednesday, though it apparently occurred in February, per Useforge’s LinkedIn page.
Aside from his eight-plus years at J.C. Penney, Useforge spent some of his three decades in retail at Saks, Bon-Ton, Goody’s and Kohl’s. He was also a buyer at Penney-owned big and tall label Foundry, per LinkedIn. The retailer actually ran 10 Foundry stores until shuttering them in 2015, according to the Dallas Morning News, but the label survives.
As J.C. Penney announced several new hires and executive shakeups in recent months, changes in its menswear division were not included.
In April, the company announced new financial and strategic appointments. In March, Bill Wafford also arrived as chief financial officer, succeeding Michael Fung, who had been serving in the interim after some shuffling of the role in October. In January, newly arrived CEO Jill Soltau put in place a new slate of executives that hinted at a transformation, and by February more new hires arrived, including Michelle Wlazlo as chief merchant, a position that had gone unfilled for months.
In fact, it's the company's women's wear that posed the most problems for the retailer before Soltau's arrival. The company continues to struggle in women's after disastrous women's apparel sales in 2017 that led to a drastic reset that entailed sweeping away much of its women's inventory and the letting go of longtime chief merchant John Tighe.
Penney has not had the same issues in men's, and its big and tall offer, which includes not only Foundry but also labels from athlete superstars Michael Strahan and Shaquille O'Neal, gets high marks from men who otherwise often find stylish apparel in their sizes difficult to find.
Useforge's expertise in that area suggests that Penney would like to continue with that rare area of success. The company didn't elaborate to Retail Dive why he has replaced Starke.