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J.C. Penney Still Missing 10 Million Households From Former CEO's Reign

That's what Chief Executive Officer Mike Ullman said at a Women's Wear Daily conference today.

Posted on October 28, 2013, at 12:54 p.m. ET

J.C. Penney, the beleaguered department-store company, said it's probably still "net down" 10 million customers after the 17-month tenure of former CEO Ron Johnson, who was replaced by his predecessor in April.

The retailer lost 20 million households in that period, though it probably attracted 10 million who never really shopped at J.C. Penney before, CEO Mike Ullman said today at a conference hosted by Women's Wear Daily. J.C. Penney is no longer seeing such declines and is working to regain the trust of its core customer, who has "too little time, too little money, and two little kids," Ullman said.

Ullman was upbeat addressing a packed room at The Pierre hotel in Manhattan, saying that morale at J.C. Penney has "never been better" and that employees are "excited" about the chain's stores opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year. He reiterated an August forecast that comparable store sales will be positive coming out of the third quarter and said there's "no reason" the company can't get back to its traditional margins of 37% to 39%.

J.C. Penney has been working to overcome concerns that it may not be able to right itself after losing $4.3 billion in sales last year under Johnson, who spent millions on new ideas that flopped with shoppers. The retailer, which issued a statement earlier this month saying it's making "solid progress in its turnaround," will continue to offer monthly updates on its progress, Ullman said.

"It's important given all the information that's out there in the market to give a straight story about where we are," he said.

He said that customers were enthused by the return of private-label brands, especially St. John's Bay. Some came into stores happily "weeping" because the $1 billion brand was back, he said.

Ullman also said today that the company is all set with the cash required to complete its turnaround.