A retailer with a view: Long term partners in London’s 2012 Games

Philip Salter
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Q What are your reasons for being involved with the Games?

A The history of our involvement goes back years. We signed up to opening our new shop in Stratford before we even knew that London was successful. That decision was generated by our desire to have an East London flagship, but also to help regenerate that part of London. Part of our mission statement is to help the local community. If we can be a mode for growth, then it’s in our interest.

We were the only retailer that helped to bring the Games to London. So the fact that we were opening a new shop in Stratford and were supporting London’s bid for the Games made it very natural for us to want to get involved.

We would obviously love to be seen as Britain’s favourite department store and the Olympics is seen as the world’s favourite sporting event. There is a brand halo in associating yourself with the Olympic Games. But in essence it’s what we were set up to do. We are here to provide fulfilling employment to the people who work and own our business. We have 33 partners who are working for LOCOG as part of the deal.

A lot of the values behind the Olympics are things that we aspire to as a brand. The real cement behind our involvement was one of our own programmes called Partners in Sport, which we launched before we signed the sponsorship deal. With Partners in Sport we put aside £1m to fund the coaching aspirations of people who work in the business. We now have 640 sports coaches drawn from the people who work in the business, and who are committed to carry on coaching within their local community. Indeed, I’m one of them – I’ve qualified as a swimming coach. Partners in Sport really helped to create a link for us, internally, between the Games – which I think everyone is excited about – and our sponsorship deal.

Q Was the decision to become the official department store sponsor difficult to make?

A Internally it was very straightforward. There wasn’t a great debate about whether we should do it – the debate was about how to go about doing it. What would we be the provider of? What would LOCOG like, and what would we like to provide? We were almost immediately into that.

Q Which are the most crucial commercial opportunities and how will you be using these for maximum return?

A The bit that everybody sees is that we have London 2012 shops within all of our stores and we get that measured on daily, weekly basis.

In the new Olympic store in Westfield, you can look out over the Olympic Park. As such, it’s one of the most visited parts of the shopping centre, with people simply wanting to look out.

We are very happy with what we have done so far, but we are very conscious that most of the activity comes very close to the event.

Q What has surprised you most about your involvement to date?

A The thing that surprised me most was how the enthusiasm took off immediately. I didn’t hear a bad word from anyone in the business that we were effectively using some of our money to support London 2012. That enthusiasm has got greater and greater. Apart from this, I have been pleasantly surprised that I haven’t had many surprises. Although our work has only just begun – 80 per cent of the activity will happen over the Games.

Q What is your advice for other businesses looking to profit from the Games?

A Don’t change what you usually do just for the sake of those seven weeks. It should be about using the Olympics to add interest to what you usually do. Our focus will still be on our shops.

Nat Wakely is director of selling operations at John Lewis.