Updated: Aug 10
UK retailer John Lewis recently announced some major changes including the appointment of it’s new female CEO Sharon White. She leads with bold moves as she sets out to change the fortunes of the company in the face of falling revenues and profits.
Just as she was getting her feet under the table the world and the retail sector was thrown into chaos. With a background in the housing sector she was always destined to be a different type of leader; let's take a look at some of the ways she proposed to move the company forward and what lessons can be taken from her approach.
She is reducing the number of stores. This is usually the quickest way to cut costs especially as shoppers move online and become more comfortable with convenience. For department stores, physical presence is crucial to the customer experience and successful marketing programs focus on merging the online journey with the in store experience. Consolidate assets but make sure the ones you keep are well integrated with other platforms.
The removal of a number of senior positions within the group means that the leadership team is leaner and potentially more aligned with the vision. Streamlining management and investing in innovation can lead to a wide range of benefits for companies juggling a physical presence and an online offering. Consistency and coordination shouldn’t deteriorate as your company grows and reviewing organisational structure is one of the best ways to tackle this challenge. One of her most interesting moves is the plan to turn some existing stores into affordable housing. It sounds unusual but it makes sense that she is plugging gaps already known to exist in the housing sector and improving the balance sheet of one of the oldest department stores in the process.
The decision to trial a hire scheme for John Lewis products means that new customers will be able to enjoy the John Lewis experience without fully committing to owning products. This serves as another income stream but could also become a new way for shoppers to discover products they love. This also ticks the sustainability box and could have lasting positive impact if they can make it work. Home and garden product sales performed surprisingly well during the lockdown as people at home found spare time and money to renovate their indoor and outdoor spaces. Sharon’s bid to expand into horticulture and garden products couldn’t have come at a better time.
By working closely with suppliers to prioritise well being at work she has recognised that happy people mean happy customers; and employee relations can’t be left as an afterthought both inside and outside the walls of your business. So how do you go from civil servant to saving the high street? Radical reinvention; sometimes it involves difficult choices and ruthless decisions. Never a failure, always a lesson.