Two years ago Ron Johnson left a cozy job as the head of Apple's (AAPL) retail stores to take on a renovation project at J.C. Penney (JCP). While Johnson's hire was met with great optimism, the challenges facing J.C. Penney were just too much to overcome. With shares slumping to 52-week lows and mounting pressure from shareholders, J.C. Penney lost patience. Earlier this week, Johnson was canned.
More than recycled goods
Meanwhile, Apple had never filled his old post - the head of retail still has an opening. And Apple should give Johnson a call. Who is more qualified? Rocco Pendola of TheStreet disagrees - suggesting that if Apple hires back Johnson, he'll buy a PC.
I get what Rocco is saying. Why would Apple want to recycle a "has-been" that couldn't even cut it at J.C. Penney? However, it goes deeper than that. And at this point Apple needs to get Johnson back for its own good.
Last week things took an interesting turn when Samsung (GM:SSNLF) decided it wanted to attack Apple's retail business by opening mini stores at Best Buy (BBY) called "Samsung Experience Shops." Why not? What exactly does Samsung have to lose? Plus, investors can't be surprised that Samsung is "copying" something else that has worked for Apple.
Meanwhile, this should raise the profile of Best Buy, which has been in a slump. Samsung plans to take-up 460 square feet of space within each store and will also hire its own staff to demonstrate new features of its products, including how content can be transferred to its smart TVs, laptops and tablets.
Your loss is our gain
While Best Buy should know a thing or two about retail, it's debatable whether the company has the expertise to make this marriage work. Although CEO Hubert Joly has done a decent job moving the company along with his "store-within-a-store" concept, it is not yet clear as to whether are not this will increase comps on a long term basis.
Best Buy is still competing with better prices at Wal-Mart (WMT), while the company has struggled against Amazon's (AMZN) online dominance. There's also the question of whether or not Johnson would accept an offer. While he still has a great relationship with Apple, I don't believe he's content with being unemployed, either.
If Best Buy or Samsung calls, he'll have to listen. Plus, hiring Johnson should appease Richard Schulze, Best Buy's founder, who recently offered to take the company private at $26 per share. While Schulze now serves as Best Buy's chairman, he has not shown patience for the company's under-performance. Arguably, this might be Best Buy's last shot at growth.
Johson is there for the taking
However, it goes both ways. Apple has not exactly thrown touchdown passes lately, either. The company, which has more than 400 stores globally, has to play defense here since Best Buy has twice as many stores as Apple in the U.S. alone. And given Samsung's aggressiveness to topple Apple, Samsung many not wait for Best Buy to call Johnson.
What's more, with shares of Apple already under pressure from Samsung having closed the innovative gap, investors should demand that Apple secure Johnson's return. But it goes without saying, given the competitive advantage that Johnson can lend Samsung by knowing not only the secret to Apple's retail success, Johnson also should know some of Apple's secrets. How much is that worth?
Apple's stock has fallen 40% from a high of $705. And it's not yet clear when shares will regain $500. And if Apple allows Johnson to get friendly with "the enemy," when all it had to do was make a phone call, Apple's innovative prowess would no longer be the only thing in question - investors would have to wonder about Apple's competitive spirit.
Here's making sense
Best Buy can ensure that its relationship with Samsung is successful by hiring Johnson. As with Apple, who would be more qualified to make this work? It is remarkable how all of this leverage has now fallen on Johnson's lap immediately after failing embarrassingly at J.C. Penney.