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Property Special preview: Q&A with John Lewis property director Jeremy Collins

Drapers gives you an exclusive sneak peak of our interview with John Lewis property director Jeremy Collins, ahead of this weekend’s edition and property trade show BCSC next week

How can landlords and retailers work together to reduce total occupancy costs?

We’ve increasingly seen the property and retail industries working more closely together to understand what’s going on with rates and putting forward complementary perspectives to the government on that. To extent to which either individually or collectively we can get the government listen is debatable, but I think that there is some progress in that regard. [We’ve] just got to keep at it. The pressure is not going to go away in terms of impact on our businesses, so we shouldn’t be lessening our pressure on government to work with the industries to find a solution that’s sustainable.

You’re set to open your first pop up store in Exeter this autumn, ahead of the opening of your first flexible format store, which will also open in the city. Are you planning to open further pop-ups?

It’s a specific marketing initiative to support the launch of the new shop in Exeter, and a great way to start to give people in Exeter an idea of what they can expect to find in the shop when it opens in terms of range of products, [and] partly service standards.

John Lewis is opening stores at a time when many others are drastically reducing their portfolios. Are you looking to open more Flexible Format and John Lewis at Home stores going forward?

As a business we have a relatively small portfolio of 35 shops which compares with a lot of retailers with hundreds, if not thousands of shops. So in relative terms we have a small footprint geographically around the UK and there are some gaps in that coverage which we are seeking to fill.

It is clear to us that to provide the best possible service for our customers and therefore trade most strongly, we need a balanced portfolio between our physical presence in shops around the country, and our ability to reach customers online and through other media channels.

Would you consider going down the House of Fraser route and opening click-and-collect only stores?

I wouldn’t rule out any initiative. [Though] I’m not sure that House of Fraser’s trial has proved to be financially sustainable. We have a different approach and we’ve been able to roll out click-and-collect not only through our own department stores, but also through the Waitrose portfolio. That’s effectively giving us a platform of 285 shops, rather than 35 shops. So I think there’s less pressure on us to do stand-alone click and collect, [which is] a very expensive concept.

The second wave of Portas pilots were announced recently. From the initial signs, what do you think are the chances of success for the project?

Any initiative that supports existing town and city centres and generates new vibrancy has to be welcomed. It will be down to the quality of the individuals and organisations working on those projects, and the amount of energy and resource they can to bring to bear. Those destinations have to work out what their competitive advantage really is, and differentiate themselves. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Mary Portas thought there was, but I don’t think there is a single blueprint that you can generically apply to every place that will solve its problems. It’s a huge opportunity, and these corrections are often quite painful in the short term.


Read the full interview in our first-ever property special in this weekend’s edition of Drapers, which will also be distributed for FREE at BCSC next week.

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