John Lewis bosses will be “looking to get the best possible deal they can” out of crunch talks aimed at keeping the retail giant in Aberdeen, according to a top Scottish academic.
Professor Leigh Sparks, a lecturer in retail studies at Stirling University, said the high street firm will have a clear idea of what it needs to remain in the Granite City – but it’s a matter of whether they “can get it” from city business leaders.
It is understood that John Lewis is open to exploring other options in order to keep a presence in the north-east of Scotland, including a smaller, more centralised space that includes a Waitrose food and drink store.
The firm met with a newly formed taskforce group that includes city council officials and members of Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce last week as part of a consultation process.
Prof Sparks said: “John Lewis know what they need to make a store work in Aberdeen, it’s just about whether they can get it.
“They’ll certainly be going into this with their eyes open, they’ll know the cost structure they need and know what they want and they’ll be looking to get the best possible deal they can – that’s what you’d expect a commercial retailer to be doing.
“The publicity John Lewis is getting by withdrawing from big cities isn’t very good for them.
“Withdrawing out of Aberdeen is quite a statement – so they have to be seen to be exploring all the options.
“They know what it would take to have a more efficient store and what it would take to make that profitable.”
Prof Sparks also warned that many big retail firms are looking to shed big traditional spaces in favour of more communal city spaces.
The retail scholar believes it’s up to city leaders to provide an attractive location where footfall is guaranteed to convince John Lewis bosses.
He said: “People are now looking for places that give them good experiences, so I suppose the question is can Aberdeen city centre give John Lewis that beyond shopping, whether it’s theatres, exhibitions, outdoor gardens, to attract people to that space?
“If we can get city centres back functioning better than they were before, then these sites become much more of a value proposition and that’ll be where retailers will want to be.”
The taskforce group which met to discuss the potential options available to John Lewis includes council administration leaders Douglas Lumsden, Jenny Laing and Marie Boulton, as well as Russell Borthwick and Adrian Watson, the chief executives of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce and the business improvement district Aberdeen Inspired.
Mr Borthwick said last night: “There’s still a very clear desire from consumer and the economic partners to see whether anything is possible – that is absolutely the case.
“John Lewis haven’t walked away and we’re hoping for further developments and movement as the week goes on.”
Co-leader Douglas Lumsden said: “We’ve been engaging with John Lewis to see what kind of site size they would be looking for if they did move closer into Aberdeen city centre.”
“We’re quite clear that even if it was a smaller site, we’d much rather have them in the city centre than some retail park outside the city.”
John Lewis bosses are considering their future in the city.
A spokeswoman for John Lewis Partnership said: “We’ve always been clear that this is a proposal that is subject to a consultation with partners.
“The group consultation process starts shortly, so we are unable to give further updates on the current situation.”