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Behind the Christmas scenes at Stratford John Lewis

PUBLISHED: 12:00 19 December 2015

Siobhan Flynn, visual mechandiser at John Lewis in Westfield Stratford City

Siobhan Flynn, visual mechandiser at John Lewis in Westfield Stratford City

Archant

Beginning with the frantic chaos of Black Friday through the gentle December build-up and culminating in the Christmas Eve panick-buying, the festive period is the busiest time of the year for the retail industry.

Ruth Scharvona, managing director of John Lewis in Westfield Stratford CityRuth Scharvona, managing director of John Lewis in Westfield Stratford City

Although every major business aims to put its own stamp on the season, one department store has had such an impact in recent years that the launch of its yuletide advertising campaign is heralded as a major national event.

But with a roster 600-strong workforce expecting to deal with 30,000 customers this week, there’s more to Christmas at Westfield Stratford City’s John Lewis store than the man on the moon.

Managing director Ruth Scharvona, 45, started planning this year’s seasonal strategy back in January and insists there is no better time to be in the business.

“If you choose to work in retail as a career it’s the best time of the year,” she said.

Selling assistant Reiss Jacobs-Aaron shows of his wrapping skills at John Lewis in Westfield Stratford CitySelling assistant Reiss Jacobs-Aaron shows of his wrapping skills at John Lewis in Westfield Stratford City

“There’s nothing more exciting than seeing the Christmas decorations go up and the store looking really inviting – for me there’s no greater time of the year than now.”

Senior visual merchandiser Siobhan Flynn, 27, from Silvertown, was in charge of kitting out the shop for Christmas – a job she starts planning for in March.

Working through three consecutive nights in late October, she led the store’s transformation from regular department store to winter wonderland.

“It’s really nice to see the faces of the customers and the partners coming in when they look up and see all the decorations,” she said.

Christmas decoration at  John Lewis in Westfield Stratford CityChristmas decoration at John Lewis in Westfield Stratford City

“The biggest part of visual marketing calender is Christmas and we’re already thinking about what we can do next year.

“I just love the whole process of it and although it can get stressful with such a huge job in a few nights, it’s really rewarding when you the reactions afterwards.”

Up to 100 additional temporary staff are taken on each year for the pre-Crimbo rush with up to 70 per cent of those likely to be offered permanent contracts in the spring.

Selling assistant Reiss Jacobs-Aaron, 20, from Woodford, specialises in home and gifts after joining as a seasonal temp in 2012.

Now wrapping presents professionally among his many responsibilities, he admits his work skills come in handy outside the store at this time of year

“When I first started my wrapping skills weren’t the best, but three years later I’d say they’re pretty good,” he said.

“I’ve had a few customers come up and say ‘I know who want to wrap my gifts’, but my Mum’s probably still the best wrapper.

“One of my other jobs is to help customers who aren’t sure what to get for their loved ones, so at this time of the year I find it quite easy knowing what to get for my friends and family.”

A partnership, staff members are the shareholders, John Lewis differ from their competitors in a number of ways, not least because they’re not open on Boxing Day – traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

“A lot of other shops are open so their staff don’t get to the sales themselves, so I’ll probably pop down for a bit and then chill out with my family,” he added.

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