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May 22, 2014
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John Lewis remains focused on international

May 22, 2014

John Lewis will blow out 150 candles this summer. To celebrate, the British department store has planned a series of events in its Oxford Street store in central London. An interactive exhibition immerses visitors in the store’s past and allowing them to learn about John Lewis’ beginnings as a humble drapery shop opened on Oxford Street on May 2, 1864 by Mr. John Lewis himself. The exhibition will also touch on the destruction of the department store in 1940 and its reconstruction over the subsequent 20 years.

Also to mark the occasion, designers Antoni & Alison, Jaeger, Ted Baker and Barbour have produced exclusive pieces while the designer Orla Kiely has launched its first menswear collection.

John Lewis on Oxford Street

For Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis, it’s a terrific opportunity to review the success of the company, which now includes 41 stores throughout the United Kingdom. Introduced in 1929 by the founder’s son, Spedan John Lewis, the store’s employee-ownership model is widely praised in Britain: "According to John Lewis Spedan, the ultimate goal of the company is the happiness of its members," recalls managing director, "we don’t not have external shareholders, so there aren’t any conflicts of interest, as each company employee is a partner (91,000 in total) with a right to vote."

Everyone has their say in running the company, and it’s impossible to buy or sell shares - employees also lose their shares when they leave the department store. An annual bonus is also shared equally among all employees.
It’s a model that undoubtedly explains the low turnover, at less than 10%, of full-time employees.

The financial results are apparent: Over the past year, the company recorded a turnover of over 4 billion pounds with 1.1 billion online, or 29% of the total. "Much better than our major competitors, for whom online sales represent between 12 and 15% of sales," noted Andy Street.

Online sales account for nearly a third of sales

While the group does not intend to establish itself in mature European markets, the launch of its international website two years ago has already allowed it to expand its customer base: "In continental Europe, our main customers are in France, Germany and Spain and Italy," said Andy Street.

International remains a major focus of development for the brand, which annually welcomes an significant number of international tourists, notably from Kuwait, China, Nigeria and Russia. The retailer, which has already developed a wholesale distribution agreement with the South Korean department store Shinsegae, is looking for other countries where it might establish itself: "We continue to look toward Asia with interest,” said Andy Street. “While Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan are interesting, we haven’t yet made up our minds.”

In the meantime, John Lewis has chosen Heathrow’s newly refurbished terminal 2 to establish its first airport store. It is scheduled do open on June 4.

Stéphanie Salti

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