How Earl Madison helped build JCPenney's hospitality division

Earl Madison III, JCPenney’s hospitality national account manager, at a trade show. Photo credit: JCPenney

It’s been just over a year since retail giant JCPenney launched its business-to-business program for the hotel and lodging industry—and for Earl Madison III, the company’s hospitality national account manager, the new division is an opportunity to apply the lessons of a lifetime of learning.

Early Years

Madison got a taste for the hospitality industry during his 11 years at HD Supply—but he didn’t start out in the company’s hospitality department. He spent eight years as senior government national account manager, dealing with national accounts and C-level executives to develop these partnerships. When the U.S. Army launched its Privatized Army Lodging program, Madison helped develop the company’s relationship with the program. “I realized how exciting the hospitality industry was through that,” he said. Once positions became available on HD Supply’s hospitality team, he switched over as a hospitality national account manager, spending the next three-and-a-half years managing 14 national accounts—with a consistent growth rate of more than 14 percent year-over-year, he noted.

Madison credits that growth rate to rolling up his sleeves and reaching out to everyone at the accounts—“just going in and sharing the value of the company, developing relationships at the C-level, but also extending down to the field level by just sharing the value-profit they had,” he said. Just as important, he said, was making sure that the team was executing everything that they had negotiated and making sure that those things were being accomplished out in the field. 

Spending time with management companies and ownership groups and learning what was important to them and their success gave Madison a strong sense of what hospitality professionals needed. “That allowed me to come over to JCPenney and start the hospitality division here,” he said. 

Joining JCPenney

After a little less than two years as national pro manager at Home Depot following HD Supply, Madison joined the team at JCPenney’s then-nascent hospitality division. “It is truly the perfect fit,” he said of the division and his role within it. At the moment, the department does not have contracts with major brands—but Madison is happy catching the smaller fish first. “Think about the independent hotelier, the vacation rental management company, the bed-and-breakfast industry,” he said. “These are all folks who have the autonomy to kind of buy the things that they need and are very personalized and special to their industry—and that's JCPenney. We fit that perfectly. Everything from the amenities to the in-room supplies—everything that they purchase, we can provide that.” 

JCPenney has a key differentiator from other suppliers, Madison pointed out. While hoteliers can always order their supplies from the company’s website, they can also use the 875 JCPenney stores across the country as backup. “We've developed a pricing strategy and a pricing program for those customers so that they can receive the value that they deserve for being a ‘commercial customer,’” he said. The website’s offerings will offer commercial clients the same products store customers can find. “We have a commercial textile program where we've partnered with Sobel Westex and also Welspun so we can provide bulk textiles to hotels. We have an appliance program because we now have appliances in the majority of our stores. We've developed a mattress program because we also have mattresses now in the majority of our stores. We have a window-treatment program as well, and we're currently working on [a maintenance, repair and operations] program for them. It's a process. We want to get our name out there, get people accustomed to using JCPenney again, and then go after those customers who absolutely need the bulk programs.”  

Now that he’s established himself in the hospitality sector, and is a certified master hotel supplier, Madison is happy to keep growing his roots. “It's such an incredibly gracious industry,” he said of the sector. And having worked in several industries, he sees a clear difference in working with hotel professionals.  “You become a commodity, and you're just out there pushing product. But in the hospitality industry, you're building lifetime relationships.”  

LOGIC IN LOGISTICS

We have 875 [store] locations across the United States, but we also have a call center that we developed, so the customer can actually call us if they're looking for the bulk textiles or looking for appliance quotes, looking for mattress quotes, etc. We're trying to become a solution for customers, whether it be a pick-pack-and-ship where we ship it directly to you or if you just have an emergency where you have to go and take care of it immediately. So it's kind of the perfect model for the hotelier. You have a lot of small independent hotels that go to Costco or go to Walmart, etc. Those [stores] don't have a customized program to help these customers save money and have the product that they need. So that's basically what we're doing. We're trying to help those customers from a logistics standpoint to have our stores available, but also be able to ship that product to them as well so that they can stay in their hotel and do what they need to do. 

CLICKING WITH CLIENTS 

We do a lot of trade shows. We have joined seven affiliations in the hospitality industry, so one of the ways we reach out to them is by attending all of their trade shows, both national and regional shows, and by contacting their members, whether it be through email, phone calls or actual personal visits. When we join an affiliation like the Vacation Rental Management Association or some of the other bed-and-breakfast affiliations that we join, it's to make sure that we have a solidified program and that we are partnering with them to get the word out to all of their members that JCPenney is here and we have a dedicated program for the hospitality industry.