‘Our Christmas adverts have transformed how we speak to our customers’
Anna Berry is head of buying for Christmas at John Lewis & Partners. She lives in Kent with her husband and three children.
s someone who works in the Christmas industry, people are surprised that I still love the festive season. It’s the most wonderful time of the year and I feel lucky to play a part in it through my job.
I joined John Lewis & Partners 30 years ago as a graduate trainee and, after stints on the shop floor, transferred to buying. In 2015, I became head of buying for Cook & Dine – in 2017, they added Gifts, which includes Christmas, so this year will be my second overseeing Christmas buying.
We say we ‘own’ Christmas and feel the country looks to us to define the festive season. We sat down to start planning Christmas 2018 in April 2017! This year, it’s all about our seven colour schemes, including Moonstone, Emerald, and Sapphire. We always search for the newest, most exciting Christmas tree, with this year’s being a rainbow one. We’ve also collaborated with Quality Street this year, so customers can personalise their tin and choose which varieties they want in it – you could have only Big Purple Ones!
Buyers have to be bold and tenacious. The hardest times in my career have been when trade is challenging. My job at the moment is to ask my teams why we aren’t hitting our targets, while acknowledging that the market is difficult, then developing an action plan.
Despite spending three decades at the same company, I’ve never done the same job for more than three years. I’ve had a non-linear path partly because I’ve had three kids. I went part-time after my second child and I wouldn’t be here without flexibility. Every time I’ve asked about changing roles or flexing my hours, I’ve been allowed.
I didn’t expect to reach head of buying because I’d taken so much time out with my children, but I returned more focused each time. The travelling involved was hard when my kids were young and I tried to limit long-haul trips. My husband travels for work, too, so it’s a juggle! My mother-in-law lives two doors away and is very supportive. I’ve felt guilty, but the important thing is that my kids see their mother working and are proud of me, even if my son did once call me ‘head of wooden spoons’!
I run a team of 60 buyers, junior buyers and assistants. On Mondays we dissect the past week’s trading. My days combine working with buyers on strategies, going to shops and meeting colleagues across marketing and strategy teams to dream up creative product launches. You never have your best ideas at your desk, so I’m trying to be more agile and have meetings outside.
As a leader, my style is open and my team know they can be honest with me. I’m here to steer the ship, not tell them what to buy. But for buyers, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing your vision come to life in store.
Our Christmas adverts have transformed how we speak to customers. They used to be corporate, but now they’re more emotional.
My own family has a traditional Christmas. My relatives travel over from Ireland and I’ll cook a turkey dinner for 15 people, even though I’m veggie! When it comes to shopping, I do it both online and in store.
There are lots of long-service staffers here – I was in a meeting with two others recently and between us we’d clocked up 100 years! I love the company – it’s not perfect, but it tries to do the right thing.