John Lewis at 150: Questions and answers about the shop which became a national institution

John Lewis store, formerly Bonds. Picture: Denise Bradley John Lewis store, formerly Bonds. Picture: Denise Bradley

Monday, May 5, 2014
10:00 AM

While other high street brands have seen their fortunes suffer with changing fashions and the challenge from budgets shops, John Lewis appears to be in a strong position.

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Here are some questions and answers about the store that became a national institution.

Who owns John Lewis?

Unlike many companies which are owned by shareholders, John Lewis is owned by its staff. John Lewis was founded in Oxford Street in 1864, and the first profit-sharing scheme started in 1920. In 1950, the partnership legally became owned by its employees. The model has gained increasing political attention since the 2007 crash, with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg calling in 2012 for the creation of a “John Lewis economy”, with staff allowed to buy shares in the company they work.

How did John Lewis grow?

John Lewis’s first expansion outside London came in the 1930s, and included the purchase of Waitrose, then a chain of 10 shops, in 1937. It doubled in size three years later when it bought the Selfridge Provincial Stores Group. The 1982 purchase of Bonds in Norwich reflected a decades-long strategy of buying department stores in the provinces, but allowing them to continue trading under their original names until 2001. It was an early pioneer of online groceries, launching home delivery service Ocado in 2000.

How is the John Lewis Partnership doing now?

According to its latest accounts, published last month, the partnership made a £423.6m operating profit last year, 6.6pc down on the previous year, although the figure was depressed by a one-off £47.3m payment following a mistake calculating staff holiday pay. Staff received an annual bonus of 15pc of their pay, down from 17pc the previous year.

And how is the Norwich store performing?

So far this year, the Norwich store has enjoyed a solid 3.1pc growth in sales compared to the same period last year, while, in total, John Lewis stores saw a 7.8pc increase. Its online presence, johnlewis.com, has seen the biggest rise, of 26.8pc. According to operations manager Jonathan Oakes, the store is currently seeing good sales of flooring, furniture and fitted kitchens, suggesting a recovering housing market in Norfolk, and strong fashion sales, indicating confidence that summer 2014 will be a sunny one.

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