John Lewis – How could you?

by Katie on March 18, 2010

Delving into the underbelly of John Lewis is a bit like peering up the skirt of a favourite auntie. You know what’s going to be there, there’s no surprises, but you really don’t want to go there. I tuned in to last night’s edition of ‘Inside John Lewis’ (BBC2) with a nervous curiosity and a hint of distaste. “Please don’t let them balls it up”, I thought, but the fly on the wall format isn’t doing the brand any favours with the very target audience it aims to attract. The air is very much of someone at a party desperately (and I mean desperately) trying to attract you and be one of the gang, while you talk to your mates and look for another drink. Let me say from the get go, I am a fan of John Lewis/Peter Jones as one of Britain’s unsung heroes. Its place on the great British roster of brands that you can trust and love is unrelinquishable. And that’s where the problem lies. Would I continue to be loyal to a brand so hell bent on ‘fitting in’ to the mainstream of UK retail when it’s great attraction is its quirks, its 100% service and the fact that it doesn’t. Does John Lewis really have the fashion wherewithal and credibility to convince hard and fast, savvy middle Britain more akin to Boden and Burberry to part with their cash? After all, what does a fashion purchase from John Lewis say about you?

The programme concentrated on the revival and re-brand of the womenswear fashion area under the tutelage of experienced womenswear head of buying, Jo Hooper (described as a fashion supremo’, which is always to be distrusted), the hiring of new recruits for the new Cardiff store or ‘partners’ as JLP prefer to name them and the opening of a new concept type store to John Lewis, concentrating on electronics. If anything, it highlighted how resistant the mainstream within John Lewis are to change…like M&S eight years ago, it appeared to be like pushing a juggernaut uphill with one hand tied behind your back.

The programme was pure informative comedy gold with a concentration on the ridiculousness of the decision making process within retail (ie it takes a cast worthy of Cecil B. DeMille and a good six months to ensure ‘buy in’) and the courage and tenacity it takes to move a brand forward. It was all rather ‘staged, nervous smiles to the camera while trying to look confident’…not exuding it. But back to Ms Hooper. “People are looking at us for more contemporary product..while the husband is looking at plasma screens, we want her to be looking at our fashion and be the department store choice for clothing’ (sic). Firstly, Jo…I’m hearing you. But, please let it be known, I’d rather cut off my right (purchasing) hand than lose control of my man in the new media section of the store and actually, hey, I’m quite interested in plasma tellies, too. The point the lady is making is that she wishes to be a destination shop, not an impulse shop, which is the manna of all fashion retailers as it means loyalty. But loyalty is not bought with mainstream updating and fitting in, it’s bought with sheer daring and audacity. John Lewis probably has more fashion right to back a new series of young designers or to go out on a limb and place zingy designers like Emilio de la Morena, Louise Gray and Roksanda Illincic in their stable…but that may be a tentative step too far for a brand who are knee deep in the water rather than plunging head first into the fashion forum. And that’s a pity as that’s the edge John Lewis could have over Debenhams and their list of mainstream safe haven designers. While Craig Ingles (Head of Brand Communications) says he’s seeking “a more dynamic, edgy image without alienating the core base of the market”, there’s only so much ‘edginess’ a person can inject when it takes a laboratory like controlled fashion shoot (with dozens of advertising bods detailing every photographic shot) and a heated debate re model, Jacquetta Wheeler’s haircut. C’mon guys…lighten up and get with the p.g!

The most cringe worthy aspects of the programme were of the constant behind the scenes look at sales talks and Human Resources training (or as I say, Human Remains brain washing): New camp catering ‘partner’ James being trained how to make tea, pancakes and to sniff out good wine, the soul destroying Bebop Dance (don’t ask) where the partners had to re-enact a training procedure that had all the hallmarks of Richard Madely doing Ali G.

The business seriousness came across as, Andy Street (Managing Director) had to make cost savings and therefore cut head office jobs. The ‘Head Office Transformation’ or HOT as Andy said (retailers aren’t half fond of their acronyms) went down like a cup of cold sick. Loyal staff were shell shocked and the victims of a change too far as they were excess to business requirements. When you throw away the base morals of a business, what else is there left? Partners have to feel like belonging rather than be partners in name only.

John Lewis, I wish you well but don’t go changing trying to please me. You do that enough already.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: