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Exclusive: Sneak peak at John Lewis Birmingham

This Thursday, September 24, sees the opening of the 32nd full-line department store for John Lewis. The most refined of its estate will anchor the Grand Central shopping development above and around Birmingham New Street railway station – and Drapers gained exclusive access to the store on Monday.

Covering four floors, with 250,000 sq ft of gross space providing 150,000 sq ft for trading and 20,000 sq ft for catering and various customer services, the store benefits from all the experience JL has learned at its modern smaller stores in York and Exeter.

The first full-line store since Stratford, east London, was opened four years ago, Birmingham includes the first Loved & Found department, the group’s interesting attempt at a lifestyle concept to attract younger, hipper consumers to its demographic. Think of a slightly tidier Urban Outfitters and you are on the right lines.

Kim Morris, head of store design for John Lewis, gave Drapers a guided tour of this impressive addition to the partnership in the company of Ed Connolly, buying director for fashion and beauty, who was seeing the store for the first time.

“Here in Birmingham we have dialled up the customer experience to create more differentiation between the store and (shopping) online,” said Morris. “We have brought in more visual merchandising, new mannequins, and more contemporary, simpler signage.

“New fixturing has made us more efficient in areas like kidswear. In Birmingham we fit as much into 10,000 sq ft as we do on 12,500 sq ft in Stratford [City].

“We have a new concept for our main catering offer, The Place To Eat, and we have a community centre than can be used by local groups, or brands or ourselves to do demonstrations.”

There has been a subtle move upmarket in the West Midlands too, evidenced in the addition of a large Tom Ford area in cosmetics, the arrival of See by Chloé and Ferragamo in a much enlarged women’s footwear department, and the first appearance of & Beauty, a lavish spa concept that offers more than 100 treatments in luxurious surroundings.

Wi-fi is available throughout the store. Given John Lewis’s strength in omnichannel retailing, the property is awash with signs stating “We’ve more than we can show” to encourage shoppers to continue purchasing online, while other notices urge shoppers to download the stores app.

The click-and-collect area is on level 2, close to the & Beauty spa. Heavy use of this service is expected, thanks to the high traffic numbers passing through New Street Station.

Also noticeable is the greater prominence given to the store’s own-label collections, such as Kin (across women’s, men’s and kids’), John Lewis & Co (menswear) and the special occasion offer Bruce by Bruce Oldfield (women’s), which has been a considerable success since it appeared in stores just two weeks ago.

John Lewis Birmingham represents a £35m investment for the business, creating 650 new jobs. It is a confident statement for John Lewis, whose nearest (smaller) locations are its department store in Solihull (about 20 miles to the south) and its At Home unit in Tamworth (about 20 miles to the north).

The company reckons that it will be offering about 350,000 lines in Birmingham, including fashion, furniture, homewares, beauty and the latest technology. 

Involving a five-year programme, the £750m redevelopment of the station and the £250m investment in the Grand Central shopping centre are part of a reboot of the UK’s second city. John Lewis managing director Andy Street – himself a Brummie – told BBC TV: “We are trying to play our part in a balanced recovery of the Midlands economy… Shopping is a crucial ingredient of the big city-centre successes of the future.”

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