Bill Friend, vice president of Fluent Commerce, a retail management platform, told Real Money that J.C. Penney and Sears are not cut from the same cloth.
"Sears was raided by hedge fund guys, so they were never going to really recover," he said. "J.C. Penney is a different animal in that respect."
Eddie Lampert has been much maligned during his tenure at Sears. The company filed for bankruptcy protection early Monday and Lampert, who runs hedge fund ESL Investments, agreed to step down as Sears CEO. He will remain chairman.
Eric Schiffer, CEO of the Patriarch Organization and chairman of Reputation Management Consultants, told Real Money that Lampert had essentially taken all of the major, profitable assets from Sears' catalog and left "a shell" of a company with a discredited brand.
Friend was confident that J.C. Penney's management still has vestiges of a prominent brand.
"While they'll have to find a way to differentiate, the J.C. Penney brand is still mostly intact," he explained.
Other experts were more supportive of Lampert's strategic moves at Sears, noting that he was often the only bidder on the sale of different Sears brands and injected capital in the company to keep it alive to this point.
"I think Eddie has done everything at an arm's length and remember he's lost a lot of money on these deals," David D. Tawil, president of distressed debt-focused hedge fund Maglan Capital, told Real Money. "He's been a survivor for a long time."
Sears may still be thrown a life saver as Lampert's hedge fund is in talks to offer a "stalking-horse bid" for the purchase of a large portion of the company's store base, according to a court filing. The interest in keeping the store base alive demonstrates Lampert's efforts to stave off complete liquidation if possible.
Still, there are similarities between J.C. Penney and Sears.
Friend noted that both responded too slowly and too weakly to the challenges posed by Amazon (AMZN) .
"My company looks at Sears and other companies like it and we realize they just didn't move quickly enough as Amazon came in," he said.
Friend said it's premature to say "too little, too late" for J.C. Penney, as a turnaround could still come if it focuses on broadening both its in-store and online businesses.
Additionally, the highly leveraged nature of the company remains as a strong comparison to Sears, which was ultimately felled by a debt payment it couldn't make. J.C. Penney's debt is not as concentrated and the company has worked diligently to draw that down for years.
Tariff Turmoil on the Holiday Horizon
In order to prove it can thrive under its new CEO, the holiday season will be pivotal for J.C. Penney.
"Holiday season is absolutely going to be important," Friend said. "The season last year was tremendous, so it should bode well."
The season will be particularly important given the expectation of higher tariffs on Chinese textiles and goods
that begin in January. The rate is set to increase to 25% from its current 10% level on January 1, 2019.
"Tariffs are a huge factor," Friend said. "People are scrambling right now to make sure they can deal with them."