8:40am Thursday 26th December 2013
By Neil Phillips
AFTER 25 years in business at High Wycombe, the John Lewis department store finally saw its fashion range arrive at the store in 2013 - and business has been booming ever since, says the shop, which believes the revamp is helping keeping trade in the Wycombe area.
The new-look store officially opened to the public in October, after a £16 refurbishment - the largest investment the retail chain made in any of its stores this year.
High Wycombe branch Managing Director Lisa Williams said: "Customer reaction has been hugely enthusiastic. We’ve got everything under one roof, that has been the major comment."
Andy Street, MD of the entire John Lewis chain, said the new-look store "is not a refurbishment, it’s a complete transformation".
Wycombe District Council put conditions on the store, preventing it from selling clothes and shoes, when it opened in 1987 in a bid to protect businesses in the town centre.
The council granted permission for the store to sell clothing last year, but this was still amid objections from House of Fraser and Eden’s management company that the move would have an adverse effect on town centre trade.
Mrs Williams said the additional ranges of stock have gone down well with customers: "Clothes have been massively well received and lots of the brands we have added have been a welcome addition. Jewellery has been a remarkable success. It’s all building really nicely."
She added that watches, electronic tablets and Furby toys has all proved swift sellers in the run-up to Christmas, with gift foods such as pannetone and a gingerbread house also doing well.
And they say the store’s cafe, The Place to Eat, is another success story - citing examples of customers who have spent the whole day at the store stopping at the eatery both for lunch and dinner.
Mr Street noted the store now carried a number of lines that are actually the only ones available in the area, notably cosmetics brands, and therefore shoppers no longer had to traipse out of town to buy them.
He said: "For Wycombe District Council that’s good news. Before, trade was looking out of the area, into London (for certain brands), but it doesn’t have to now.
"Lots of customers have told us there’s no need to go to London now."
To underline this message the store sent its so-called ‘Fashion Train’ to Marylebone Station around the time of the relaunch. There, it promoted Wycombe’s new-look store, and tried to make sure commuters knew about the new lines available.
The tactic seems to have paid off, with the store getting at least 60 beauty consultations as a result of the Marylebone initiative.
Mr Street said he never considered the £16m refurb to be a risky move: "This has been a high performing shop since we opened and the amount of customer demand to do what we have done has been deafening. We’re always very sure we’d get a return on our investment.
"I’m delighted with the Wycombe performance. This Christmas has exceeded expectations."
He believed the biggest impact of the transformation is that it has made the Wycombe branch a proper department store . He said: "John Lewis is 150 years old next year. The idea of a department store at the end of the 19th century was that your (needs) are all under one roof, and that is what we have here now."
The shop has taken on a total of 400 new employees since the revamp, although around half this figure are temporary Chritsmas staff.
And as, the store prepares for its sale, which starts tomorrow, Mr Street thought signs were looking good for the economic recovery. Across the chain, he said, sales of non-food items were up, while John Lewis was trading 4.5 per cent up, against a national figure of 2per cent.
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