Five things we learnt from White’s first out­ing as John Lewis boss

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Laura Onita Price Christ­mas More part­ner­ships and ser­vices Loy­alty scheme

Like many in­com­ing bosses, Dame Sharon White promised a sweep­ing re­view of her new busi­ness when she ar­rived in March. Yes­ter­day, she asked stake­hold­ers to wait un­til next month for a big un­veil of her plan that is meant to sta­bilise the mu­tual. She has al­ready hinted at some eye­brow-rais­ing mea­sures, in­clud­ing the con­ver­sion of ex­cess space in stores into hous­ing and of­fices.

Nina Bha­tia, who was hired in Fe­bru­ary to lead the re­view of both Waitrose and John Lewis, in­sisted there was “no mys­tery” around the de­lay.

Al­though they largely kept sh­tum, Dame Sharon’s key lieu­tenants hinted at the fol­low­ing changes:

Its price pledge, Never Know­ingly Un­der­sold, is al­ready un­der re­view. This does not mean the firm will scrap it al­to­gether. Pippa Wicks, who joined the busi­ness five weeks ago from Co-op to run John Lewis, said that “it needs mod­ernising and re­fresh­ing”.

She em­pha­sised the mu­tual will fo­cus on “en­try level prices” and “value for money” for some of its prod­ucts.

Its ex­ec­u­tives are “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic” about the fes­tive sea­son de­spite con­sumer con­fi­dence be­ing mel­low. John Lewis launched its

Christ­mas shop last month, ear­lier than ever. Early signs and pur­chases of baubles and other para­pher­na­lia were en­cour­ag­ing, it said.

Dame Sharon said her ex­pec­ta­tions were not “naive op­ti­mism” and shop­pers will be keen to cel­e­brate af­ter “what has been a pretty hor­rid and dif­fi­cult year”.

Shop­pers are likely to have squir­relled away some cash they might have spent on a hol­i­day abroad.

The part­ner­ship made head­lines again this week when it said it was clos­ing a fur­ther three Waitrose shops and sell­ing one to Tesco.

But James Bai­ley, who runs the su­per­mar­ket chain, said: “We are more pos­i­tive about adding new stores in the near fu­ture. Pretty soon you will start to hear us talk about more stores in new post­codes.”

Click-and-col­lect fea­tures heav­ily in its plans to make the most of both brands and the re­spec­tive branches. It wants

White ruled out a sale of ei­ther brand to roll out the propo­si­tion to al­most 900 lo­ca­tions.

It has al­ready said it will dou­ble-down on tie-ups with other com­pa­nies. But the firm is now won­der­ing “how deep it can go”, Wicks said. It re­cently started to rent out fur­ni­ture with help from Fat Llama for items in­clud­ing so­fas, cof­fee ta­bles, desks and bed frames. They rented out all the avail­able items in 48 hours.

Dame Sharon took the op­por­tu­nity to again rule out a sale of John Lewis or Waitrose as part of her vi­sion for the brands. She said: “We’ve made it clear that it’s a red line for us that we will not be sell­ing ei­ther brand.”

It said it wanted a joint pro­gramme for both brands. Cur­rently they are sep­a­rate. The move mir­rors its ef­forts to sell more John Lewis prod­ucts in Waitrose and vice versa. Wicks de­scribed it as “a big part of our plans”, but de­clined to say more about how it would work.

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