J.C. Penney keeping Sunday haircut program

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Children who missed the opportunity to get a free haircut at J.C. Penney last month will get plenty more chances.

After an overwhelming response to the chain's free haircut offer for children in August -- 1.6 million haircuts, to be exact -- Penney will be making it a permanent offer every Sunday, starting Nov. 4.

The decision underscores the extent of new chief executive Ron Johnson's efforts to re-energize the chain and transform every aspect of its business, from pricing to creating a new shopping experience.

The move comes as the Plano, Texas-based company grapples with two straight quarters of losses and severe sales drops as shoppers, accustomed to big sales signs, have been turned off by a new pricing plan. The pricing strategy, implemented Feb. 1, involves eliminating hundreds of sales events in favor of everyday prices that are 40 percent lower than last year. Starting last month, Penney tweaked its strategy to add more clearance events and tell shoppers that they're getting a fair price every time they visit the store.

The free haircut program for children, from kindergarten through the sixth grade, helped to bring in new customers and existing ones who didn't know about the latest merchandise changes. While Penney is still dissecting shopping patterns among families who took advantage of the free haircuts, the company believes some of them did cross the aisle to buy products.

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"It definitely drove new people and reintroduced J.C. Penney to existing customers" who didn't know about the latest changes, said Jan Hodges, senior vice president of Penney's salon services, which are offered in 949 of its 1,100 stores. Penney originally thought it would give one million haircuts last month.

Johnson announced the free haircut program in a newsletter emailed to 15 million customers early Monday.

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