Exeter's new John Lewis store 'lifts city trading'
IF Exeter was bucking a trend before, it is bucking it even more with the opening of John Lewis.
Early reports show that trade was up across the city centre on Friday and at the weekend – the new store's first three days of trading. And predictions of traffic chaos were unfulfilled.
John Harvey, Exeter's city centre manager, pictured right, said: "Before John Lewis opened there were some who had two predictions – it would bring gridlock to the city centre and that it would hoover up all the business.
"It is early days but the city centre flowed extremely well at the weekend. There was no traffic chaos as people took notice of the message that it would be sensible to use the park and rides and other public transport.
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"In addition all the feedback is that the city centre as a whole was very busy – it was not just the John Lewis show. Debenhams was significantly up."
The Guildhall Shopping Centre also increased its footfall. Andrew McNeilly, the centre's manager, pictured far right, said: "On Friday our numbers were up about 3,500 and about 2,000 on Saturday and were flat on Sunday.
"That is 5,500 up on John Lewis' first three days and you have to put this in context – across the South West the retailing figures are minus 3.2 per cent year on year and nationally minus 2.2 per cent.
"Exeter is almost nine per cent up on the national average and that is good news by anybody's standards. There is nothing negative to say about it."
Mr Harvey added: "John Lewis is playing a very key part in attracting people into the city and that is benefiting every other retailer, large and small.
"We can't be complacent as there is much more we need to do but one of the key benefits is this would increase our catchment area and I am now confident that people from across the region will choose Exeter as their first choice of destination for shopping.
"It is early days but all the indications are very encouraging and it can only benefit retailers, including the small independents."
Exeter's John Lewis is the largest the retailer will open this year, and thousands poured through the doors within hours. Early reports from the retailer show that the fashion department saw strong sales over the weekend with brands such as Barbour, Mint Velvet, White Stuff and Phase Eight flying off the shelves.
For the home, John Lewis' newly launched House range proved popular, with bedding and linens in particular attracting interest and one of the very first purchases made was a John Lewis own brand rug. In the electrical department, tablets and TVs saw strong sales.
Customers also benefited from the shop's technology, using the in-store online terminals to order from the extended product offering on johnlewis.com as well as the digital store guides to help them navigate around the shop.
The Place to Eat was a big hit and sales of hot drinks over the weekend were equivalent to more than one per minute and more than 200 pints of milk were used each day.
Kate Connock, branch manager, said: "The past few days have been fantastic.
"The atmosphere in the shop has been wonderful and we couldn't have asked for a better reception from our customers. We hope to see this continue as we establish ourselves further in the community. The strong trading figures over opening weekend have shown that John Lewis Exeter has got off to a great start and we look forward to seeing how this progresses over the coming weeks. All departments have shown very strong sales, but it seems that the fashion department and the Place to Eat were real favourites with our customers."
Among the customers queuing on opening day was Dorothy Ferrier, who said that since moving to Exeter from Edinburgh 13 years ago, next to her family it was a John Lewis she had missed most.
In anticipation of the retailer's arrival, Exeter resident Rose Mounts, who recently retired from a local company, said she had asked specifically for John Lewis gift vouchers as her leaving present and was looking forward to spending them on some jewellery.
The shop has 40,000 product lines across fashion, beauty, consumer electronics, home and nursery.