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Thank you so much for your extensive history of the operation at Blakelands, this information is incredibly useful to fill the inevitable gaps in our knowledge.
I remember this well and can still visualise the outfit. I was a young partner at the time working for Mrs Donelly in the fashion department.
“In May 1979 the Gazette announced to purchase of a warehouse at Milton Keynes in which it was planned to house heavy electrical appliances allowing them to be sent directly to customers on a system known as “sample sales”. In the past large kitchen appliances had been sent to department stores and then delivered by local teams, but this new warehouse provided the opportunity for goods to be sent directly to customers, avoiding the possibility of damage and increasing the speed at which the deliveries could be made”.
I’m afraid this opening statement is, for the most part, wrong. As you say customer delivery of sample sales appliances were delivered by the individual store. That continues. Blakelands role is to supply the shops with those sample sales.
Below is a broader description of Blakelands operation.
Blakelands. Sample sales warehouse.
Sample sales had already existed to some degree for a while. In the middle to late seventies increase in trade started to put pressure on the space available in the shop and service buildings despatch departments. A lot of this space was taken up by a large electrical appliance stock. So to clear this space the decision was taken to build a central warehouse that would house all these appliances and free up the much needed space. This warehouse is Blakelands. It was centrally sited in Milton Keynes and had excellent access to the M1. It would be a central hub serving all the shops daily in the same way that Stevenage did, but with the added responsibility that all Blakelands goods were time controlled. This entailed the use of forty foot articulated vehicles to deliver the stock to the branches.
Apart from freeing up much needed space in the service buildings, the buyer would have better control of stock and be able to consolidate deliveries to one destination instead of suppliers delivering to all the shops service buildings, thus saving time and money on transport costs. Now, when making a sale the selling partner could guarantee a delivery date. Commonplace now but not in 1980. All deliveries of large electrical stock (817) into Blakelands was entered onto to a central computer, that was accessed directly by the 817 departments in all the shops, allowing the selling partners to make a sale. This was another advantage, because of a central and therefore a more controlled delivery method, there was always stock. When the partner made a sale it would generate a transfer with a customer delivery date printed on it. These transfers from all the branches were printed the same night at Clipstone St. in London, at the same time the central stock would be updated to amend the available stock for the next days sales. From here these transfers would be picked up by a partner from Blakelands and would be delivered to Blakelands by 06.30, where they would be sorted into branches and sent out to the pickers. The pickers would then assemble all the goods into the various branch lanes in despatch for loading. Blakelands would then deliver the load to the branch. At the branch, these goods were then loaded onto the customer delivery vans and delivered to the customer. So the time frame was:-
Day 1 Sale of goods.
Day 2 Goods picked and loaded at Blakelands
Day 3 Delivery from Blakelands to branch.
Day 4 Customer delivery.
At the time of opening Blakelands (1980) there were around seventeen branches and these were delivery times for branches further away, ie. Liverpool and Newcastle, Edinburgh. But, those branches that were closer to Blakelands geographically, were able to receive their goods at the branch on Day 2 ready for customer delivery on Day 3. As usual Clearings handled all 817 for Oxford St., Peter Jones and Brent Cross.
This guaranteed level of service, in those days, was not matched by our competitors. However even this lead time was improved by one day when Blakelands started a transport nightshift, which meant all branches received their 817 on day 2 for customer delivery on Day 3. Even when Aberdeen opened, the furthest branch from Blakelands, with a succession of drivers through the night, had access to customer delivery on Day 3.
The whole principle of Blakelands was totally governed by the customer delivery date, the goods had to be delivered on time without fail.
Later, flatpack furniture (816) was added to the sample sales system as were carpets (630) and beds.