National retailer John Lewis is to unveil the first of up to 50 new format stores selling home, electrical and technology ranges in October.
The £6m new format store, which will be a third of the size of full John Lewis Department stores at 55,000sq ft, will get its first trial airing in an old Courts retail park location near Poole.
If successful the retailer says it has identified between 30-50 viable locations for the format, which it would start opening roughly a year after the first if it got backing from the Partnership board.
The store will sell ranges that focus on what the retailer describes as its “core strengths” of electrical and home appliances, technology ranges and home furnishings.
The retailer says it has identified a “gap in the market for mid-premium end” home and electrical retailer. It also says its customers have indicated in its research that they want easier physical access to John Lewis stores.
The roll-out has been designed in part to expand the John Lewis footprint during the recession which has delayed the planned roll-out of its full-format stores.
However, the retailer says it is still committed to the full format rollout to 10 ‘robust’ locations as the economy improves, and is on schedule to open its first Welsh store in Cardiff in September and a store at the new London shopping centre Westfield in 2011.
Analysts say the move cannot be compared to Marks & Spencer’s homeware “Lifestore” experiment in Gateshead four years ago, which was ditched soon after Stuart Rose took over as chief executive.
“The M&S Lifestore shed in Gateshead was a disaster from stage one. It was too big, too expensive, too grand and it didn’t have enough stock to fill it,” says Planet Retail analyst Brian Roberts.
“In contrast I am extremely positive about the prospects for the new John Lewis format as there are a lot of areas under served by the retailer currently, and selling points such as “never knowingly undersold” on electricals make it a huge draw,” he adds.
Meanwhile Nick Bubb at Pali International says this is a clever pre-emptive strike against the arrival of US electricals chain Best Buy. “Best Buy are planning their UK stores, Curryπs are moving upmarket, why shouldnπt John Lewis compete?”
“Its such an obvious move one wonders why they havenπt done this before,” he adds.
John Lewis currently has 27 department stores and posted sales totally £2.8bn in 08-09.