Can John Lewis chief Inglis defy the credit crunch and grow the brand?

Only three months into his role as head of brand communications at John Lewis, and Craig Inglis is already talking about his ambition of giving the retail brand a “bit more of a face and a personality”.

In his first exclusive interview, the former Virgin Trains marketing chief who left the train operator last November after ten years, is keen to point out how his newly-created role at the department store fits into chairman Charlie Mayfield’s ambitions to double the size of the partnership within the next decade.

“I’m here because of extremely ambitious growth plans that Charlie has for John Lewis,” says Inglis, who reports to marketing director Gill Barr. He says that like the rest of the retail industry, John Lewis expects this year to be tough and continues to struggle to sell white goods and furniture, “but that is balanced by things that are doing well elsewhere, such as fashion”. The department store’s sales tumbled by 4.7% to £48.5m for the week to May 31.

Tough competition

Inglis concedes that John Lewis not only faces tough competition from the likes of Debenhams, currently on a growth curve, and House of Fraser, but also supermarket giants, such as Tesco, which has long recognised that growth comes from non-food products. Next year it will face another aggressive new competitor when the US electrical retailer Best Buy makes its first foray into Europe.

“We continue to track above our competitors even in a tough market, and it is our breadth of range and customer services that makes us unique and therefore protects us,” he says.

Building trust

Inglis points to the latest John Lewis advertising campaign, designed to remind customers that the department store is a retailer that they can trust more than any other.

“People are very cautious about spending, so we want to make sure that when they are buying, they are buying right,” he says. “That is the John Lewis response to the current economic climate, and perfectly timed. The idea is that the John Lewis brand already evokes an emotional trust with consumers and the new campaign focuses on that customer service.”

The campaign will use staff, or the store’s “partners”, for the first time. The group’s 69,000 staff are all partners who earn a percentage of the annual profits.

Inglis adds that the campaign was not born out of the tough economic climate. “John Lewis is no longer for middle England alone, and my job is to communicate that the brand is contemporary and modern. The new campaign has both personality and humour, but continues to talk about our traditional values such as quality, fair price and outstanding service.”

Inglis also wants to “make it pretty clear” that the new ad is not “Halifax communication – we have not set out to make celebrities of our partners”.

The campaign has been created by Lowe London, and the new brand chief says he also wants to put any rumours of pitching the account out of Lowe to rest. “I can only judge Lowe for the work it has done and so far it’s been great. I will not review the business to make my mark, as it is not about me.

“I have done the dinner party test already, where I tell people what I do for a living. Everyone says how much they love the brand,” says Inglis.

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