John Lewis will be ready to reopen its stores as early as next month, a senior executive at the department store’s parent company has said.
Andrew Murphy, executive director of operations at the John Lewis Partnership, says that the group could be in a position to reopen some of its 50 shops by mid-May. That means the retailer will be ready to act as soon as the government allows non-essential retailers to reopen their stores. That’s likely to come once the infection and death rates from the Covid-19 coronavirus are deemed firmly under control, once testing and PPE supplies are in place to meet future demand, and only when any changes do not risk a second peak, as set out in the government’s five tests for relaxing coronavirus lockdown.
Murphy told the Mail on Sunday that John Lewis is “modelling for scenarios where different sizes of shops are able to open at different points in time”. He added: “That seems to us to be reasonably likely. Even in a scenario where we are theoretically able to open all our shops on the first day, we wouldn’t do that. We would open in a minimum of three tranches.”
He said the retailer had only recently started to be able to think about reopening its shops. “For the last four or five weeks the crisis has been intense and the demands have meant we’ve been dealing with circumstances changing almost daily,” said Murphy. “Over the past seven to 10 days there has been a shift. For the first time we have been properly beginning to think about a restart.”
The retailer has learned from the experience of sister supermarket Waitrose about the steps that need to be taken in order to achieve social distancing in-store.
In the first phase, it is envisaged that stores with large car parks - of which John Lewis has about 20 – would open first. Staff at these shops could drive to work without relying on public transport. Private buses might also be used to get staff to and from work. Larger stores in London, Birmingham and Glasgow would be likely to remain closed until later on. About 2,000 people work at its largest shop, on London’s Oxford Street.
Of its 50 stores, 35 are department stores and the remaining 15 are smaller John Lewis At Home stores, where shoppers can buy a limited number of products while browsing and ordering the wider range online.
Murphy says the retailer will remain mindful that public opinion now demands that businesses prioritise health and safety. “There will be no headlong rush to get our shops open just because we can,” he said.
Once open, John Lewis, an Elite retailer in RXUK Top500 research, is also likely to learn as best practices evolve. “We have to recognise that when we first do this we will learn a lot of things that we didn’t expect, even though we will aim to get it broadly right. We will learn lessons that mean by the time we get to the end we could be doing things materially differently.”
News of the plans comes as the BRC this weekend released guidance to help non-essential shops plan for their eventual reopening.
John Lewis has also said today that it is reopening its Lancashire textiles factory to make gowns for the NHS. Its Herbert Parkinson factory will make washable clinical gowns for the Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust.
It is donating more than 20,000 metres of cotton fabric from haberdashery departments and distribution centres to two groups, For the Love of Scrubs, and Scrubs Glorious Scrubs, who are making items for the NHS.
Stuart McDonald, head of Herbert Parkinson, said: “We’re all looking forward to re-opening our factory and threading our sewing machines again to play our part in helping the NHS. We expect to be able to produce around 2,000 gowns per week.
“The fabric we are donating for scrubs could have no better use than to keep people safe. Over the past few weeks we have already donated over 400 metres of fabric to groups making face masks and scrubs for their local hospitals, pharmacies, care homes and communities. They have told us that this has enabled them to make over 3,000 face mask linings and 75 sets of scrubs.”
Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We will be forever grateful for this support from John Lewis which will directly, and positively, impact on our front-line workers and patients - helping to keep them safe.
“It is clear, we can only tackle the challenges faced through utilising local channels and relationships to do so. It is this spirit, of pulling together, that has helped us to achieve so many things over recent weeks, at pace and without any outside influence. We need to embrace with open arms all offers of help and turn these into actions that support our staff and patients.”
Elsewhere, John Lewis has created wellbeing areas for staff at the NHS Nightingale hospitals in London and Manchester and is distributing essential items to NHS staff and donating electricals such as coffee machines and kettles to staff rooms at acute London hospitals.
Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon