Former Sheffield MP Richard Caborn blasts John Lewis boss Pippa Wicks for 'destroying' the brand

Former Sheffield MP Richard Caborn has blasted the boss of John Lewis - which closed its city centre store last summer - for ‘destroying’ one of the most respected brands on the high street.

Monday, 28th February 2022, 12:50 pm

Mr Caborn fired a broadside at Pippa Wicks claiming her decisions had ‘undermined and destroyed’ the firm’s hallmark of trust, built up over nearly a century.

Her pledge to invest £500m in lower prices was a ‘pathetic attempt’ to cover up her corporate mistakes, he added.

And he said her ‘ill-founded and short-term decisions’ had put it into the league of ‘also-rans’ on the high street.

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The store closed in June 2021 with the loss of 299 jobs.

Mr Caborn spoke out after executive director Pippa Wicks sent a round robin email to customers revealing the staff-owned department store chain was retiring its slogan ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ this summer.

WHY IS THE SLOGAN BEING RETIRED?

She said it was ‘no longer serving you in the way that we would like’ because ‘it doesn’t allow us to match prices for online-only retailers’, she claimed.

She did not explain why the policy couldn’t be changed.

Upset staff held vigils after the store closed.

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The firm’s website states it is no longer enough to ‘assure trust’ because it applies to fewer and fewer sales as shopping moves increasingly online, and isn’t applicable to online-only retailers.

Under the slogan, which John Lewis introduced in 1925, the chain commits to refund customers the difference if they find the same item on sale for a lower price within 28 days.

In the email, Ms Wicks also said the company would spend £500m on lowering prices.

Inside the store shortly after it closed.

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SHEFFIELD STORE?

John Lewis closed its longstanding department store in Sheffield last June.

The shock move, which cost 299 jobs, came just 10 months after the company signed a 20-year deal to stay in its Barker’s Pool building - apparently ending years of uncertainty over its future.

It was one of eight that closed when the firm lost £571m in 2020 due to the pandemic and internet shopping.

John Lewis

But less than a year later the company was back in profit.

Ms Wick’s email states: “I'm delighted to let you know that today we're announcing a £500 million investment so that we can bring John Lewis quality to you at great value prices, every day.

“As the cost of living rises, we have all become more conscious of our spending habits and with this new investment, we will ensure that we're offering you the quality, style, service and trust that you expect from us, whatever your budget.

“With this in mind, we will be retiring our Never Knowingly Undersold policy this summer.

“Established back in 1925 and a hallmark of trust for nearly a century, we recognise that this policy is no longer serving you in the way that we would like, as it doesn't allow us to match prices from online-only retailers.”

The Sheffield Rules proposal is the biggest so far put forward for the site.

Mr Caborn fired back, saying: “I am deeply disappointed with your email, as it symbolises the destructive nature of the decisions your Board has taken in destroying one of the most respected brands on the high street.

“A brand which has you say had the ‘hallmark of trust for nearly a century’ your decisions have in months undermined and destroyed this hallmark, which has taken nearly a century to build and create.

“Your £500 million offer is no more than a smoke screen in an pathetic attempt to cover up your corporate mistakes

“Your ill-founded and short term decisions have put the great high street name of John Lewis into the also-ran league of high street stores.

“Time will tell how much damage you have done but unfortunately that damage is for ever.”

WHO OWNS THE BUILDING NOW?

The John Lewis building in Sheffield belongs to Sheffield City Council.

The authority bought it from the company for £3.4m and rented it back at a much-reduced rate based on turnover. The firm was also expected to contribute to repairs and modernisation.

Built for Cole Brothers in 1963, it became John Lewis in 2002, and was in dire need of an upgrade. A recent report reveals it could cost up to £70m.

Meanwhile, the authority has launched a major consultation on the building. It has laid out three broad options: retain and reuse, demolish and create a large public space, or demolish and create a public space with a smaller building.

Late last year, The Star revealed a global sports brand wanted to spend up to £100m creating an attraction on the site.

‘Sheffield Rules’, would be a football-based cultural and wellbeing centre in the old store - or in a new building.

But the authority must make a decision so detailed proposals can be drawn up, according to Adam Murray, managing director of planning consultants Urbana, which is leading a consortium of firms working with the brand.

The authority has said a decision ‘is likely by the summer’.

Mr Murray said recently: “Our bid can’t go in until we know what they want - one of the options is a park. There are a lot of numbers to put in to see if it stacks up. How can we get our proposals correct if we don’t know what will happen to the building?”

Scores of ideas have been suggested for the former department store. It is unknown how many have commercial backing.

Mr Murray urged people to support Sheffield Rules, which would also have a museum, shops and flats.

He said: “We think it speaks to the heart of Sheffield’s history and future, with wellbeing and inclusivity at its heart.”

It was the brand’s concept, and there could be potentially dozens of centres worldwide, but the consortium had convinced it to choose Sheffield for the first, he added.

“They could go anywhere on earth, there might be 50. However, Sheffield is being taken very seriously because it’s at the heart of the modern game.”

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