JCPenney General Manager Welcomes Back His ‘Family’: Customers and Associates

Jody McKnight was a high school student balancing his studies with a job at JCPenney, working as a fine-jewelry sales associate. Back then, his goal was to go into nursing. He never dreamed his high school job would change his life.

“Over the years, I had a lot of people invest in me,” he said. “Somebody took a chance on a young, high school guy.” Jody found himself in nursing school, wishing he was, instead, back at the store with his team. He soon changed his major from nursing to business. “I haven’t looked back,” he said.

 Jody McKnight, JCPenney GM

Jody would go on to get an MBA and become General Manager of the Fairview, Texas, store just outside of Dallas. For him, it’s all about the relationships with his customers and his associates. “It’s like we’re family,” he said.

Jody’s store, along with JCPenneys across the country, temporarily closed amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The day he and his team returned, they gathered for a morning huddle. Jody had a message for them.

“Whatever we have going on in our lives, the customers have the same,” he said. “Our customers are under so much stress, and now more than ever, I absolutely believe in the power of retail therapy. So when our customers come in, I want them to have an amazing shopping experience that will take their mind off what they’re going through, even if just for a moment.”

Jody said that nearly three dozen customers waited outside for doors to reopen. Soon the store was busy and filled with laughter as customers and associates came back together while still observing social distancing.

“We’re all running really hard,” Jody explained. “Everybody is wearing a lot of different hats.”

Associates are doing everything from contact-free curbside pickup to unpacking deliveries. Jody himself has been filling every role as well, and he especially enjoys working the register. “We are so glad to see our customers,” he said, “and our customers are glad to see us.”

When it came time to reopen, Jody called each associate personally to gauge their interest in returning. “Whenever I go through all the safety measures with them, they’re definitely relieved to hear them.” These precautions include everything from Plexiglass shields at registers to masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, contactless checkout and closed fitting rooms. “That put their minds at ease.”

Associates who are not ready to return to work or have vulnerable family members at home are able to remain on furlough for a set time period.

Jody is looking forward to the day when everyone is back. “I’m just super proud of my team,” he said.

Jody McKnight, center, with his close-knit team as they reopened JCPenney in Fairview, Texas.