Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose delivered a damning verdict on the recession’s grip on the UK yesterday at a major conference in Belfast.
“There are not green shoots. There are absolutely no green shoots.
“I have not seen them and we all need to soldier on,” said the chairman and chief executive of Britain’s largest clothing retailer.
Sir Stuart, who has been in retailing for 38 years, was addressing delegates at Northern Ireland’s first retail conference, Retail NI, at the Stormont Hotel.
In a frank speech the top businessman, whose dual role at M&S has courted controversy, said: “This recession came fast, it came deep and it came globally.”
And he warned retailers “the recession will favour those who are strong, nimble and bold. It will punish those who are weak and feeble”.
M&S, which has suffered a 3.4% drop in sales, has also been hit by the economic downturn Sir Stuart conceded. He said: “It has been a tough year for us. We had to close 30 under-performing stores, cut capital expenditure by £400m, cut our marketing budget by £20m, made some tough choices on final salary pensions and most regrettably we had to make some redundancies.” The retail kingpin told the 150 delegates that he first realised a recession was looming in December 2007 when customers at M&S stores throughout Scotland started ‘minding their pennies’.
Earlier this year M&S found itself in hot water with some of its female customers after charging more for larger bra sizes. However, after the company admitted the ‘boob’, as Sir Stuart described it, the retailer increased its market share from 26% to 27% within a month.
Listening to its 21 million customers has paid dividends for the major high street retailer. “The collapse in consumer confidence means that it is even more vital that companies connect with the needs and wants of their customers.
“We have responded and listened to our customers, which is vital and does work,” he said.