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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK

Business: The Company File

John Lewis welcomes credit cards

Sir Stuart Hampson opposes the idea of taking the partnership public

Shoppers at the John Lewis stores will be able to use Visa and MasterCard from 27 September.

The John Lewis partnership is one of the last retail groups to yield to plastic cash. Until now, it has accepted only Switch and Delta debit cards, in addition to their own store card.

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones: "Some partners want more radical change"
Mr Brian O'Callaghan, director of trading for the department stores division, said: "With an increasing number of transactions over the telephone and with an eye to the Internet, we felt the time was right to add the most widely used third-party credit cards to our customers' payment options."

The decision was taken in May, but announcement was delayed while a new computer system was installed.

Profits slide

The John Lewis partnership's future as a private enterprise has been brought sharply into focus by news of a slide in first half profits.

Pre-tax profit fell 44% to £67m in the first half of 1999 from the previous year's £119m, while trading profits fell 22% to £77m from £98m before.

Growing numbers of John Lewis staff are calling for the company to float on the stock market, which theoretically could allow the 40,000 partners to pocket windfalls of about £100,000 each.


Sir Stuart Hampson, chairman, who is strongly opposed to taking the partnership public, said that the results "provide a stark reminder of where the focus of our energy and attention should be at the current moment".

Sir Stuart described the results as "not unexpected" but still "deeply disappointing".

Group sales - which grew 3% to £1.7bn - were helped by the opening of department stores at Glasgow and the new Bluewater store in Kent. However, like-for-like sales in the department stores were down 3.4%. Sales at Waitrose supermarkets grew 5.8% with five new Waitrose stores planned during the company's second half.

The results were in part influenced by an exceptional payment of £30m in 1998, which was a refund of overpaid VAT.

Food for thought

The results will provide food for thought at the retailing group's council on 20 September, at which representatives from the 25 department stores and 118 Waitrose supermarkets will be present.

Sir Stuart, who controls 60% of the vote, has come under increasing pressure to put the issue of flotation to a vote.

The pressure has grown following the successful conversion of other mutual societies, such as building societies and the Automobile Association.

As it is, John Lewis staff share in profits which are distributed as bonuses and also have access to unusual benefits under the trust, such as use of holiday homes and yachts.

The partnership was founded in 1864 when John Lewis opened a drapers' shop in Oxford Street. It was his son, John Spedan Lewis, who first began the experiment with employee ownership in the early part of this century.

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