“Test and learn” is the mantra adopted by the John Lewis Partnership’s top brass as they map out plans to safely reopen their department stores.
Operations chief Andrew Murphy says the employee-owned retailer, which also owns Waitrose, is trying to be humble in the face of the crisis. “If it has taught us anything, is that we simply cannot get everything right, and embrace the fact that there is uncertainty,” he says. “We are going to have to accept that we are going to have to call some things wrong and be in the mindset of being ready to ‘course correct’ – we’re not perfect.”
Even so, the department store chain has a blueprint for reopening sites. The flexible, phased plan has “a minimum of three” stages, says Murphy. It takes an average of four weeks to get a shop up and running. It has devised an individual plan for each of its 50 stores to allow for social distancing.
The chain was poised to open some stores this month before the Government suggested June 1 as the earliest date for non-essential stores to wake up from hibernation.
The first two stores earmarked for reopening “are really difficult for us” in terms of complexity, says Naomi Gillies, the director of retail, although she would not say which ones.
The move was deliberate as it will allow the retailer, at least in principle, to see what works and what does not depending on the size of the building. Some shops have seven entrances; others have two.
However, it will initially prioritise the 20 or so stores with large car parks so both customers and staff can drive to work without having to rely on public transport. “It’s just prudent and part of our safety-first approach,” says Murphy.
It might even introduce private buses for staff if public transport is unsatisfactory.