John Lewis, the department store chain, has announced plans to move into the residential property market by building 10,000 homes for rental over the next few years. The developments would be linked to its Waitrose convenience stores near the entrance, in a move that would bring housing and supermarket retailing together to a model more familiar on the continent, where blocks of flats are often built with grocery supermarkets on the ground floor or in the basement.
The employee-owned business said it wanted to address the national housing shortage and support local communities.
It says the plans would give the firm a stable, long-term income alongside its retail activities, as well as providing new job opportunities.
Tenants would have the choice of renting fully furnished with John Lewis products or using their own.
'As a business driven by social purpose, we have big ambitions for moving into property rental," said Nina Bhatia, executive director of strategy and commercial development for the John Lewis Partnership.
She added that the move 'plays to our strength as a trusted brand known for strong service'.
The company said 7,000 of the initial 10,000 homes would be on sites in its existing property portfolio, ranging from studio flats to houses.
However, it also said some homes could be built on entirely new sites.
It added that all housing developments would come with a concierge service and would feature a Waitrose convenience store near the entrance.
The Sunday Times, which first reported the story, said some homes could be built in department store car parks, above existing Waitrose supermarkets or next to distribution centres.
The first John Lewis homes are planned for south-east England, but the partnership said it believed there were opportunities across the country.
The announcement comes as John Lewis's traditional department store retail business has come under increasing pressure from the decline of UK High Streets and the rise of an increasingly competitive online market.
Since Dame Sharon White took over as boss in February 2020, the chain has closed about a third of its stores, leaving it with 35.
Earlier this year in March, John Lewis said it would not reopen eight of its stores once lockdown eased, putting 1,465 jobs at risk.
The retail giant said some locations could not sustain a large store.
Four "At Home" shops in Ashford, Tunbridge Wells, Basingstoke, and Chester will close - as well as department stores in Aberdeen, Peterborough, Sheffield and York.
John Lewis said the eight shops were "financially challenged prior to the pandemic".
The latest move comes on top of the closure of eight stores that John Lewis announced last year. The chain has now axed around a third of its stores in less than a year.
The company also says it plans to create more places to shop for John Lewis products by the use of click-and-collect facilities in some of the areas where the main store was closing.
"In areas where we propose not to reopen stores, we will look at the right combination of options for that location to ensure we remain convenient for our customers, so they can continue to access John Lewis products and services."
It added it would invest in improving click-and-collect in its Waitrose stores and offer more local collection points through third parties. It also will continue experimenting with John Lewis shopping areas in Waitrose stores, as well as trying out smaller, local neighbourhood shops.
John Lewis' remaining 34 stores began reopening from 12 April.
John Lewis has a unique structure in that its staff are also partners in the business, and receive a share in the profits in good years.