Five things we learnt from White’s first outing as John Lewis boss
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.
New Waitrose shops