As well as being a new departure for Middle-England’s default department store, the new branch at Heathrow’s T2 could point the way towards international expansion.

As well as being a new departure for Middle-England’s default department store, the new branch at Heathrow’s T2 could point the way towards international expansion.

In its 150th anniversary year, John Lewis is firing on all cylinders when it comes to the business of creating new ways of maintaining shopper enthusiasm for what it represents. Until this morning it had two principal formats – very large department stores of more than 100,000 sq ft and smaller, regional stores at around the 80,000 sq ft mark.

Now it has a 3,600 sq ft store, a minnow by comparison with the norm, and it is located in Heathrow’s Terminal 2, which opened this morning. John Lewis is in good company. At the luxury end of things, Harrods has had a presence in London airports for some years and as of this morning it has two outlets at Heathrow. Yet while John Lewis is certainly a department store, it is an entirely different proposition from the normal half pint-sized format adopted by other sector players who choose to operate in this kind of environment.

This is a store where the top price is under £300 while for those wishing to powder their noses there are packs of tissues at £0.83, something for everybody then. And a fairly egalitarian approach to the matter of selling giftware and items that can be carried on board (the first item sold this morning was actually a £160 duvet cover) and taken off to parts foreign.

Which is rather the point, as Paula Nickolds, buying and brand director, notes: “This is as much about the online and international business as it is about selling.”

Retail space does not come cheap at Heathrow and this is therefore a sizable investment by John Lewis, which is aiming for the same kind of return per sq ft as it gets from the ground floor in Oxford Street. But it is also about spreading the John Lewis word internationally in a way that does not happen in the UK, even in Oxford Street.

The other thing that is worth noting is that this store is not airport flash, choosing instead an altogether more homely feel for its interior. It’s all about putting shoppers at ease with the brand and its essential Middle-Englandness.

Nickolds says that no plans are in place for international stores at the moment, but it’s not too much of a leap of faith to see this one as a template for future overseas openings.