Wim van Aalst, Waitrose: “Brexit overshadows everything; we expect rough times ahead”

Wim van Aalst

Over its 130-year history the John Lewis Partnership has become a well-established 11 billion pound retail and food business in the UK. Much of its continued success is thanks to the revolutionary ideas of John Spedan Lewis, son of the company’s founder, who in the 1930s turned the family owned business into an employee-owned partnership. This partnership gives employees a fair share of any profits and allows the company to work on its long-term vision, rather than short-term gain. As a result, while other high street retailers in the UK have floundered in recent years, the John Lewis Partnership has stayed ahead and thanks to its early embracement of multi-channel retailing is enjoying online success.

By Helen Armstrong

The Partnership has two divisions: John Lewis & Partners, for home furnishing, fashion and electronics, and food retailer Waitrose & Partners. Wim van Aalst became a member of the Waitrose Management Board two years ago with responsibility for Supply Planning and Distribution of Operations. His role is to develop synergies within the John Lewis Partnership and drive efficiencies in the omni-channel supply chain. At the same time Brexit is an all-consuming issue on the very near horizon.

What is your responsibility regarding the supply chain?

“I am supply chain director for the Waitrose division but I joined the partnership with the intention of bringing the Waitrose division supply chain and John Lewis division supply chain more closely together. In the past these two entities were completely separate but there is a lot to gain by tapping into the synergies already in place. Waitrose.com is a very successful growth part of our business and the fastest growing on-line grocery retailer in UK, but it can benefit a lot from the John Lewis supply chain.”

“On a daily basis my supply chain role covers all store replenishment, transportation/distribution and warehousing, so everything from suppliers through to our seven distribution centres where it is picked, packed and then shipped to store: this is where supply chain stops. My (long term) role as a board member has been to highlight the significant lack of tools required to take us into the future; in the past investment had mainly been in stores. We are currently investing in transportation management, replenishment management, inventory management and automation in the warehouses.”

What is the strategy of the Company (or Division/Supply Chain): Operational Excellence, Product Leadership or Customer Intimacy?

“Waitrose has always prided itself on supplying quality, and as much as possible, British produce. As well as about 380 stores we also run Waitrose.com which, until a couple of years ago, was a loss making enterprise. Since then it has become a profitable part of the business. Interestingly, and importantly, we notice that our best customers – those who spend thousands of pounds per year – are the ones who shop both online and in store. These customers are four times more valuable to us than those customers who shop in store or online only. That’s all the more reason to look after these customers, therefore plans are in place for both the Waitrose division, and John Lewis as a whole, to provide even better service with high availability of products, low level of substitutions and great choice of delivery options.” … … …

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This article was first published in Supply Chain Movement 31 | Q4 – 2018