This article was first published on The Vegetarian Experience on 20th December 2011
Earlier on in the year I was invited to attend an Event by John Lewis called "Christmas In July" where John Lewis showcased all of their wonderful Christmas 2011 products. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend and therefore John Lewis kindly arranged for me to have a tour of my local store closer to Christmas.
So earlier this month I was invited to have a tour of the Watford store. I must admit that I am not a big lover of shopping - especially not Christmas shopping as traipsing around the shops with two children in tow is not my idea of fun. This is why I love department stores and John Lewis in particular. They are great for Christmas as you can get all of your gifts for everyone all in one place. There are so many different departments offering an array of different products and you are sure to find something for everyone in the family - even a difficult Aunt or Cousin!
Upon arrival I was met by the lovely Kate who has worked at John Lewis for the last ten years. I think talking to the staff will always tell you something about the company you are buying from. Kate has worked in many different departments over the last 10 years and was so passionate about working for John Lewis and had so much excellent knowledge. I was also introduced to various other members of staff from managers to the person collecting dirty cups in the restaurant and all were equally passionate about working for John Lewis. I also thought it was lovely that I saw staff on all levels conversing with each other and so there is obviously a good community spirit amongst many staff at the Watford store. This may be in part because John Lewis is a partnership and all staff are seen as "Partners". The vision of John Lewis' founder was to create a successful business based on principles where staff share the profits and the benefits of the Company and this was evident throughout the store. There are not many retail outlets based on this vision and as a shopper, I would rather shop somewhere where staff are treated ethically and the money is being put back into staff and the community.
Kate took me around the Christmas department first which was full of many different Christmas decorating schemes. Like many other stores, John Lewis is focusing on a Scandinavian Christmas theme this year. Check out this lovely Scandinavian themed table and tableware selection. I absolutely love it and ended up buying the Table Runner, Candy Canes and Noel sign to make my own Christmas display!
Next we moved on to the cooking and bakery section. I was in heaven in this section and could have stayed all day. As a keen cook, I loved everything in this section - especially their themed Christmas Crockery. Note to family - anything you see here would be appreciated on Christmas day! There were lots of wonderful products which are great for the festive season and throughout the year.
John Lewis also do a wonderful Le Creuset range with lots of different products available in the range. When talking to Kate about this range and the fact that they are only one of many different stockists on this range, I found that I must be the only John Lewis Customer who didn't know that John Lewis operates a "Never Knowingly Undersold" Policy. This means that John Lewis will price match with their high street competitors, including sale prices for up to 28 days! - so if you bought a product in their store, and then saw it cheaper on the high street within 28 days, John Lewis would refund you the price difference - a pretty amazing deal!
Next we moved on to the toy section - a great place to find toys for kids of all ages. A couple of things which caught my eye was this lovely Sylvanian Families John Lewis Department Store toy priced £79.95
and these Snuggimals priced just £7.97
After this we visited the food and gift section. I was pleased to see that they had a wide variety of foodie gifts including Champagne truffles, Prestat Chocolates, and gifts with Jams, Pates, Oils and lots of other fine fare.
I also loved this wonderful Keep Calm and Carry on range and their Cath Kidston range. I always struggle with what to buy Hubby for Christmas, but the men's gift section was full of gadgets and other stocking fillers I know he will be pleased with.
After a tour of the shop floor, we moved on to have a look at the John Lewis Catering Outlets. As a food blogger, I was excited to find out about the catering side of John Lewis and keen to see what vegetarian food they offered. John Lewis Watford has an Espresso Bar just outside of the store and a Place to Eat Restaurant on the second Floor of the Restaurant. Whenever I am out shopping in the shopping Centre, generally at some point I will need to get the kids fed and so the John Lewis Restaurant is always high on our list as they offer great food and kids facilities and also have a baby change and nursing room nearby.
During my visit, I was impressed to find out that John Lewis prepare 90% of the food served in the Restaurant and Espresso Bar FROM SCRATCH!. As a vegetarian and also as a mother who wants to provide fresh, healthy meals for her kids, I am always disheartened to go into some retail restaurant outlets to find that all of their food has been ordered in frozen and nuked in the microwave. As a Vegetarian, the amount of times I have ordered an Omelette, only to receive one cooked from frozen and nuked is unbelievable - how hard if it to make an Omelette?
That's why I was so impressed to find that the Watford John Lewis store has it's own highly trained Chefs and Pastry Chefs who prepare all of the food in store fresh each day. These staff are training in qualifications relevant to their expertise and so are not only being paid to work but also paid to train and enhance their skills and career development. I really value a company who provides quality food for their customers, and also one who puts time into providing training, skills and opportunities for their employees. This was evident when one staff member from the Espresso bar very proudly showed me her "Coffee Bean" brooch which she had recently earned for becoming a qualified Barista. If I may say also, this lady was in her 50's and so I was impressed that John Lewis put as much effort into training their older staff who are nearing the end of their work life as they do in training their younger staff.
Over coffee, Kate told me that John Lewis does lots of work in the Community. At the Watford store there are visits from Watford Footballers, local Panto stars and lots of other things happening in store throughout the year. Staff also choose local charities to donate a percentage of their profits too and they also engage in "work parties" where they go out into the community and carry out voluntary work for local charities. One recent project was redecorating the facilities at Herts Young Homeless group - a charity who John Lewis Watford are supporting for the next year.
John Lewis also offer a range of other wonderful services including a Nursery Advice Service which offers a free consultation, help choosing essential items, an optional Nursery list for family and friends to buy from and the option to return items within three months if they are not used - I wish I had known about this when I was pregnant!
Kate also told me about a wonderful lady at the Watford store who is a Personal Fashion Shopper. Recommending her service personally, Kate told me that this lady will pick out a range of outfits for you to try on and there is no obligation to buy - I may well be trying this out when I have a child free moment!
You can view a full range of Services offered by John Lewis and also here is a link to the John Lewis Online Magazine
There are still a few shopping days before Christmas, and so if you are still looking for gifts, I would recommend going and looking around John Lewis who have stocking fillers available from just a few pounds. In fact, even if you have finished your Christmas shopping, I would still recommend a trip there to soak up the festive atmosphere and have a hot drink and a mince pie!
Thanks so much to Laura and Sharon for organising and to Kate for showing me around the store. I had a truly lovely child-free morning talking to Kate about the John Lewis Partnership. I have never met someone so passionate and knowledgeable about their work and she actually left me wishing that I worked at John Lewis too!!
I will leave you, of course, with the advert which we are all loving this Christmas - It still leaves me with a lump in my throat every time I see it, even though it has been on so many times!!
Disclaimer: I was invited to tour the John Lewis Watford store and received a goody bag as a Thank You. All views are my own and it was my own decision to write this post.