The history of John Lewis & Partners – the UK’s favourite department store

We take an in-depth look into the history of ‘the partnership’
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  • John Lewis’ history is a long and colourful one, from its humble beginnings selling fabrics to its latest turnover of £9bn via in-store and online sales, insurance and broadband services and even groceries (from its sister company Waitrose).

    As well as a thriving online business, the company is regularly touted as one of the nation’s favourite retailers. It has 50+ department stores and John Lewis & Partners at Home shops, and hundreds of Waitrose supermarkets across the UK.

    For much of the last five decades, the company was quite slow off the blocks when it came to modernisation, but over the past 20 years or so, it has been making up for lost time.

    It launched a hugely popular online retail site in 2001, introducing standalone John Lewis at Home stores and working closely with both new and established designers to create exclusive collections.

    ‘John Lewis has such an amazing heritage, and design has been intrinsic in creating this,’ beams Philippa Prinsloo, John Lewis’s Head of Design for Home.

    ‘Everything we create in the studio goes through such a long design process,’ she says. ‘We all work towards trends for each season so will have a style and colour palette that stick to.’

    The history of John Lewis & Partners

    1864

    History-of-John-Lewis-Original-John-Lewis

    Experienced silk buyer John Lewis opens a drapers and haberdashery store on London’s Oxford Street. The store soon expands its offering to include household goods and clothing.

    1885

    History-of-John-Lewis-Oxford-Street-store

    The company’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street circa 1885. It is still found on the same (slightly larger) site today.

    1907

    John’s sons, John Spedan Lewis and Oswald Lewis, joined the company.

    1914

    Following several years of poor profits in the Peter Jones store in London’s Chelsea, Lewis gives control of the store to John Spedan in 1914. John Spedan quickly realised that the staff at Peter Jones were unhappy and unmotivated so he made a number of dramatic changes to company policy.

    1926

    History-of-John-Lewis-menswear

    John Spedan buys his brother Oswald out of the company.

    1928

    At the age of 92, John Lewis dies, leaving the entire company in the hands of John Spedan. He applies radical changes to the business that he had already introduced successfully at Peter Jones. These included shortening employee’s working day and offering them three weeks paid holiday per year.

    1929

    History-of-John-Lewis-John-Spedan-Lewis

    John Spedan Lewis founds the John Lewis Partnership, with the profits of the company distributed to all employees in the form of a bonus or company stock. 90 years later, it’s still hailed as the secret to the company’s ongoing success.

    1937

    The company grows from strength to strength, acquiring grocery business Waitrose in 1937, and three years later, another 16 stores across England.

    1940

    History-of-John-Lewis-haberdashery

    Early in World War II, a bomb falls on a section of the Oxford Street store. The resulting fire completely destroys a large area of the store. The image above shows the silk rooms in the Oxford Street store in the 1930s, prior to the bombing.

    1950s

    History-of-John-lewis-Radio-and-Television

    John Spedan transfers his remaining shares in the company to the John Lewis Partnership, making all employees equal partners in the company’s ownership. The company prospers, branching out to sell new technology such as the television.

    1963

    John Spedan Lewis passes away.

    2001

    Johnlewis.com, the company’s online shopping website, launches.

    2009

    The first standalone John Lewis at Home store opens in Poole.

    2014

    John Lewis celebrates its 150th birthday. The company redistributed over £200 million of profit to its 91,000+ partners, which works out at just over two month’s extra pay per partner.

    A special pop-up shop appears in every store across the UK, bringing all of the exclusive limited edition products together in one place. The flagship store on Oxford Street holds a special exhibition created by the people behind the Harry Potter movies

    It allows you to experience what it was like to shop in the original store last century and even transports you into the shop of the future.

    2018

    John Lewis rebrands as ‘John Lewis & Partners’, as the businesses focus on what differentiates them from its competitors. It also launches its ‘Find, Keep, Give’ gift shop.

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