Flagship store gets ready for the big day

What I expected was frantic, frenetic and intense activity –lots of noise, lots of chaps in high visibility vests working away like a colony of honey bees and the building taking shape in front of my eyes.

What I found inside the John Lewis Stratford City store was an atmosphere of calm, punctuated by little pockets of controlled, one might almost say, precise activity as groups of builders, electricians got on with the task of readying the four floors of what promises to become the jewel in the crown that is Westfield.

Floors, ceilings, walls, powerlines as well as pipes were all in evidence as Wates contractors readied the shell of the building for shopfitting next month (June).

Once fully stocked the first new London department store opened by John Lewis for 20 years will carry 350,000 lines of products spread across 150,000 square feet of floor space that, in the words of the MD, will be the next generation of department store as it will feature 70 per cent new concept and new design.

As a landmark building, the store features a distinctive glazed ‘prow’ overlooking the Westfield mall while housing The Place to Eat and an Espresso Bar.

Noel Saunders, managing director of John Lewis Stratford City, is a man with a vision of departments and product lines unfazed by approach by the date September 13.

As he walks around the site, he shows us where the various departments will be – entertainment, children, buggy area, toilets while pointing out that the design and layout has as much to do with customers’ feedback and comments as it does the store’s own designers.

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One of the reasons for his confidence is Russ Hardman – construction manager for Wates who has already worked overseen the successful and timely completion of three of the company’s most recent developments – Cardiff, Leicester and Liverpool. He sets great store by two basic principles – workflow and the health and safety of the operation.

Once complete, the store will be the biggest single shop at Westfield Stratford City site which will be home to 300 retailers and restaurants.

On the construction site is an office space, the walls of which are covered in CGI images of the finished store as well as detailed plans for the site, some of which resemble complex computer circuitry but actually represent floor plans with places for hundreds of thousands of products.

Noel shows off the site, much like a proud mother. He plans to use part of the fourth floor as an ‘events space’ for use by community groups and projects so that it becomes a part of the store’s contribution to the local area. It will also feature an Olympic shop over 5,000 sq feet as a dedicated Olympic shop.

In the prow of the building is the seated eating area that will take 280 people as well as accommodating another 70 at the Espresso bar while enjoying panoramic views of the Olympic Park, on the third floor.

Noel said: “We genuinely believe that it’s a great location for us – it has excellent transport links and opens up a whole new opportunity area for John Lewis reaching even beyond east London. Naturally, we are a retailer and here to make money, and the unique catchment combined with the exciting opportunities to become part of the local area is why we decided to come to east London in the first place.”

John Lewis has spent �35 million and it will be close to �40 million once the store is finished. Noel is keen to point out that the store will here for the long term. He said: “I know from experience that retail can be a great catalyst for regeneration and Stratford is no different. John Lewis will be the biggest retailer and the only department store based at Westfield Stratford City and, as such, a key anchor retailer for the Stratford area. We hope that our decision to come to Stratford would give confidence to other large retailers to bring their business here, therefore boosting the local economy, as well as the property prices, even further.”

The store will create 750 jobs but they are already significantly over subscribed – several thousand have already applied. Keen to ensure that these go to local people John Lewis has already guaranteed 400 assessment centre places for long term unemployed residents in Newham.

Noel said: “When John Lewis opens a new shop we feel we have a vital role to play in contributing to the long term prosperity of the local area. We engage with the relevant council to understand what the employment market is like in the local area and how we can ensure we attract the most diverse range of applicants as possible.

“In Stratford, we have worked with education providers to support pre-employment courses in key skills areas such as retail, customer service and catering. These courses are primarily for individuals in the local borough who are seeking employment and we have guaranteed up to 400 places at our assessment centres for those who complete the courses.

“Our aim in the local community is to build lasting, mutually beneficial relationships and employing those who live in the area ensures we are truly part of this community. One of the advantages of our business model is we can maximise the value of co-ownership, by providing Partners (staff) with worthwhile, secure and fulfilling employment.”