The John Lewis Partnership has had a bumper year and, in keeping with founder John Spedan Lewis’s philosophy, all its 60,000 staff, or partners as they are officially described, will share in the spoils. Bonuses totalling £87m, equivalent to six weeks’ pay, have been spread between them. John Lewis has 26 department stores, with flagship branches in London’s Oxford Street and Sloane Square, and 145 Waitrose supermarkets. It also owns 40% of the online grocery retailer Ocado, which delivers Waitrose products. In the year to January 2004 the company had sales of £4,500m, excluding Vat, ensuring that John Lewis remains at the top of this table. Operating profits hit £202m. With tax included, the company’s sales reached £5,000m for the first time, a welcome achievement as the business celebrates its 75th year as a partnership. Business is split almost equally between the department stores and supermarkets, although four hybrid Food and Home shops have been opened. John Spedan Lewis’s father John opened his first draper’s shop in Oxford Street in 1864. In 1925 his son introduced a pledge that has stood the test of time – that the company would never knowingly be undersold. “That pledge is not a gimmick,” says Sir Stuart Hampson, the company’s executive chairman. “It’s an absolute bedrock of the way John Lewis operates.” With pricing becoming ever more competitive, however, Hampson knows that John Lewis will be pushed hard over the next few years. “It is very difficult to make money,” he says. Nevertheless, the company is planning as much as a decade ahead and it intends to expand. It has announced plans to open department stores in Manchester’s Trafford Centre, Leicester and Cardiff in 2005, and is expecting to open a further eight shops between 2008 and 2012.
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