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Mary Portas: ‘Failure for John Lewis and Waitrose is not an option’

Mary Portas

The ‘Queen of Shops’ Mary Portas has told bosses at John Lewis and Waitrose that failure is not an option, after reports that the company could be diluting its partnership structure as a result of continued losses.

John Lewis Partnership recently announced it was in the early stages of exploring the sale of a minority stake in the business, which could result in the company no longer operating under its 100% employee owned business model.

In an open letter addressed to John Lewis Chair Sharon White and newly appointed CEO Nish Kankiwala, Portas said: “John Lewis and Waitrose are part of the fabric of everyday British life. They’ve been synonymous with fair values and trust for generations. Built on shared employee ownership, and shared accountability.

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“Your task isn’t to turn around just another mediocre retailer under threat of going under. You’re fighting to save part of our collective cultural identity.”

“What’s worrying me is that you might think your fight is purely financial. It’s not,” Portas added.

Recently, the omnichannel retailer appointed its first chief executive in a bid to “supercharge” its transformation.

However, according to Portas, “new systems, new people, new identity and new owners” is not what customers want from the brand, “and that’s not what younger generations want from you either,” she said.

“What we want in this crooked, flighty, commoditised world of ours is unfailing quality, honest value, genuinely helpful service. What we want is to come to you when we’re expecting our first baby and panicking about buying a cot. What we want is to come lo you when we’ve finally made it onto the property ladder and want curtains and a sofa bed that’ll last.”

“Right now though, all that is being slowly chipped way.”

The letter continued by stating: “You need money men, financial innovation, new thinking. But never forget to balance all that with the commercially instinctive, reactive, creative, retail-born folk in the business. Il’s an art. Not a science. And it’s key to building great retail.”

She concluded: “Failure for John Lewis and Waitrose is not an option. We can’t lose you too. So while you fight for the financial brain of your brand, never forget there’s a battle for its heart and soul too.”

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