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John Lewis looks to homes and gardens to revive profits

[LONDON] The John Lewis Partnership, owner of Britain's leading department store chain, has said it must diversify beyond retail to survive the turmoil on the high street and plans to expand into financial services, gardening, housing and rental options.

The coronavirus pandemic has destroyed many retail businesses that were already struggling with high rents and the shift online, leaving gaping holes on the country's main shopping streets and threatening thousands of jobs.

The Partnership, which owns the John Lewis department store chain and the upmarket supermarket Waitrose, said it hoped its plan would help profits to recover over the next three to five years.

"As you all know, these are testing times, with profits this year and next likely to be challenged," chairman Sharon White said in a letter to staff, known as partners. "The beauty of being a Partnership is that we are able to take a long-term view."

Known as middle England's favourite department store, John Lewis had already said it could cut 1,300 jobs.

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In an outline of her new strategy, Ms White said retail profit margins were under pressure and for the Partnership to be "sustainable over the long-term", it needed to expand beyond its traditional role.

It wants to grow significantly its financial services arm which offers credit cards, insurance and personal loans, and expand further into horticulture with possible partnerships on landscaping.

As the group looks at potentially repurposing its shop estate, it could work with third parties to produce affordable housing, and it is also looking to rent out products or build a marketplace to sell used products.

The scale of the plans show how retailers in Britain are having to rethink the way they do business. For John Lewis, it expects to become a 60 per cent online retailer, from 40 per cent before the pandemic, showing how quickly companies are having to adapt.

Marks & Spencer, health and beauty chain Boots and the upmarket department store Selfridges are cutting thousands of jobs between them.

REUTERS

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