Why should the opening of a new John Lewis store in York cause such a stir?

In store at John Lewis

In store at John Lewis - Credit: Archant

Esther Leach reports

Queues on opening day

Queues on opening day - Credit: Archant

Many of you might be able to relate to Robert Garnish. He folds towels when he’s a little stressed. Placing them neatly helps to calm him. ‘It’s usually around three in the afternoon. You will find me on the shop floor folding towels. It’s very therapeutic.’ This is not as strange as it sounds. Robert is branch manager of the new John Lewis department store in York, the only new John Lewis store to open in this the employee-owned company’s 150th anniversary year.

We both note the coincidence: he is particularly interested in linen goods and John Lewis is founded on textiles. The first store, a drapers, opened on London’s Oxford Street in May 1864 and is today one of the most successful if not the most successful retailer in the country.

Robert, 37, is married to Suzi and they have a five year-old daughter Phoebe. He was born in Bishop Auckland but brought up in Wakefield. His parents moved there when he was six years old. He went to Silcoates Junior School and then Queen Elizabeth Grammar School after which he gained a first class honours degree in history of art and English at St Andrew’s University. He is particularly excited to be back in Yorkshire after working for John Lewis pretty much all over the country since 2000 when he joined the company as a graduate trainee at Brent Cross and Welwyn. Robert has every good reason to be very happy in his work even though it has taken him away from his family albeit briefly as he and partners (staff) prepared to open the store and cope with the phenomenal amount of interest during the first week of trading.

‘I haven’t been able to bring the family with me but we hope to find somewhere to live close by in York,’ he says. ‘But they will be here for some holiday soon,’ he adds. Some outstanding statistics have come out of the early days of trading that have kept Robert smiling: more than 20,000 items were sold in the first three days. Linens sold well, particularly towels and Egyptian cotton sheets and the store’s home design service was popular with a number of home visits confirmed and several in-store consultations completed.

Our very own Yorkshire Life cushion woven by John Lewis partners Herbert Parkinson in Lancashire

Our very own Yorkshire Life cushion woven by John Lewis partners Herbert Parkinson in Lancashire - Credit: Archant

In china and kitchenware there were high sales of boxed glass, white china and premium gifts (silverware like Alessi and Robert Welch). In lighting and furniture, strong sales were seen on ceiling lights and phenomenal sales on beds, including made to order mattresses.

But it was interesting to discover how popular the store is as a place to just meet friends for tea, coffee and cake. The figures: 3,330 teas and coffees were sold in the first three days plus 1,500 items of bakery. And inside the glass doors at the front entrance to the 92,000 sq ft store was the meet-you spot for anyone if they lost track of family and friends during shopping.

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And beware the phone signal is not that strong towards the back of the store.

It’s the company’s most sustainable shop to date, with low-energy lighting, a roof-mounted solar energy system and a Wildlife Wall which acts as a safe habitat for passing migrating bats.

The store is already a destination in itself. ‘People have travelled from all over Yorkshire to shop here,’ says Robert. ‘Our aim is to give them the welcome and shopping experience they expect.’

There is something like 400 partners or staff working at the store, almost all of them local, which adds to the attention to detail and quality of customer service. ‘Our partners are from Yorkshire, they know their customers.’ Is it this invaluable understanding and commitment to the store as partners that helps set John Lewis apart from the rest?

According to the latest customer satisfaction poll from retail industry analysts Verdict, John Lewis’s customers are the happiest in Britain.

Their survey of more than 8,500 customers placed the store far ahead of every other and it’s the 10th time it’s topped the poll since 1999. Why? One answer: ‘John Lewis continues to deliver the product ranges, inspiration and the trust that customers appreciate,’ say Verdict. Not to mention, I might add, the neatest display of towels in any department store in Yorkshire.

John Lewis Vangarde Way, York YO32 9AE


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