The retailer’s plan is part of its strategy to rebuild profits to £400m within five years by becoming a major landlord of homes for rent.
The John Lewis Partnership intends to build rental homes at 20 of its sites across the UK. The retailer, which also owns Waitrose, said the new homes would be built beside or above stores or on other land it owns, and would be furnished using products from John Lewis department stores. Residents would also be able to order food deliveries from Waitrose supermarkets.
The company aims to submit planning applications for two sites in Greater London in the New Year. A spokesperson said that as the business is already the landlord of three of its properties, this is a logical direction in which to move. Discussions are now under way with developers and investors who will be able to help the company realise its ambitions.
One of the planning applications submitted concerns a large reduction in the size of its London flagship store in Oxford Street, converting whole floors into offices. This comes as shoppers switch to buying online and the crisis on Britain’s high streets becomes a matter of survival of the fittest in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Up to three floors of the landmark store, which currently house children’s ranges, electrical goods, kitchen and bathroom departments as well as dining areas, could be destined to become office space for rent. Plans filed with Westminster council show four floors of retail space below the three new office floors.
Although the company has said it has no immediate plans to alter the building, where it began trading in 1864, it is seeking planning permission to give it flexibility in the future. The planning permission would last 10 years, if approved.
20 sites to contain social and private homes
A stock market update published this morning details John Lewis’s aim to diversify by expanding into new areas, such as the build-to-rent market and social housing. The mutual, owned by its staff, or partners, announced in July that it will convert unused store space into affordable homes as well.
In the update, the company said it had identified 20 sites in its ownership that could be used to benefit local communities by providing quality and sustainable homes, and at the same time produce a stable income for the partnership.
A spokesperson for the retail giant, which operates 42 department stores in the UK, confirmed that the 20 sites would include both social and private housing.
Plan will ‘grow the business’ and offer customers more
The company, which considers itself a force for positive change in improving people’s lives and building a more sustainable future, will focus on issues such as recycling, savings accounts, insurance and privately rented and social housing, which are important to customers.
Over the past year, John Lewis has endeavoured to strengthen its shift to social housing by recruiting prominent social housing figures, such as Dame Clare Tickell, former CEO of Hanover Housing Association, who was appointed an independent director in October 2019.
Nina Bhatia, executive director of strategy and commercial development at the John Lewis Partnership, described the plan as bold, saying it would grow the business and enable a closer relationship with its customers.
As John Lewis and Waitrose are two of the UK’s most trusted brands, they stand to offer the best products and customer service both on the high street and online.
The company, Ms Bhatia added, is creating new inspirational services for customers for whom robust ethical values and peace of mind are important, in matters such as sustainability, recycling, personal savings and rented housing.
The retailer’s plans aim to establish John Lewis and Waitrose as the go-to brands for customers who care about quality, value and sustainability.