We in the NTI newsroom developed quite the 'CompanyCrush' on Dame Sharon White (known as Lady Chote, or 'Choters' to her mates) during the pandemic. When the British retail world needed an icon (especially one in charge of a monolith such as John Lewis) Choters stepped up with some magnificent ideas for diversification and renewal of the traditional brand with some shockingly bad stores.
She took a call with the media yesterday (Thursday 16 March), which we couldn't attend, as Billy was hanging on to Dominos for 35 minutes trying to 'go large' on his order, wherein she explained that her 'five year transformation plan' is on track. There were no smoke and mirrors necessary, despite the fact that an £181 million profit in 2021 turned into a £78 million loss for last year; Choters explained that there was a necessary write-down in the value of Waitrose stores, leading the group to a loss of £234 million. The media nodded in sympathy, although some did try to make sense of the numbers by writing them down and trying to get them to add up.
Choters stood up before us all, looking drop dead amazing, and told us that inflation hit the John Lewis Partnership “like a hurricane”, adding that “nobody could predict” the impact it would have over the last 12 months. Blimey, we'll say - that was quite the year; thank heavens that's over. The truth is that if you didn't need a new toaster or ball of speciality cashmere wool in 2022 you would learn to go without, and this strikes at the very soul of what used to be John Lewis (not just a Christmas ad with a retailer attached).
John Lewis have a new, catchy slogan (not quite up to Network Rail's ... 'See It, Say It, Sorted'; but in that league). Their new efficiency programme is known as 'Lean, Simple, Fast' (although Billy is thinking of suing, as he thinks they may have nicked it from what his ex used to call his lovemaking technique), and new (and JL's first) CEO, Nish Kankiwala, is saying this will supercharge JL's business over the next two years, converting more of its sales into profit, which is a novel idea for much of retail these days.
You may recall that John Lewis moved away from its 'Never Knowingly Undersold' slogan, replacing it with 'For All Of Life's Moments', which Tracee thinks may have been borrowed from a toilet paper manufacturer. Waitrose is now the proud owner of some dainty brand repositioning under the ‘Food to Feel Good About’ platform. Neil felt very good about some of their made-to-measure sushi last week, pairing it with a cheeky kambucha (sorry, northern folk - fish and pop). The message certainly seems to be coming across.
The group claims it had 800,000 more shoppers in 2022 than the previous year, but they are spending less. This is consistent across all of retail, along with the notion that people aren't getting the same bang for their buck, so are banging out fewer bucks.
Well done, Choters, we are right behind you.