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M&S puts its shirt on Steve Rowe to revive clothing sales

Published 04/04/2016

Steve Rowe is the new chief executive at Marks & Spencer
Steve Rowe is the new chief executive at Marks & Spencer

Retail giant Marks & Spencer will keep new chief executive Steve Rowe at the head of its clothing business in a bid to shore up flagging sales.

The high street bellwether said Mr Rowe would continue to spearhead the general merchandising unit, which looks set to report a 3.4% fall in like-for-like sales when it gives a quarterly update on Thursday.

Mr Rowe, who took over as chief executive from Marc Bolland on Saturday, told staff that improving general merchandising sales was the firm's "number one priority" and he was "personally committed" to getting it right.

He is expected to shed light on his turn around plan for the business when it announces its full-year results in May.

The retailer's latest move to revive women's clothing sales came in February when it sealed a tie-up with TV presenter Alexa Chung to launch a fashion collection inspired by the company's extensive clothing archives.

Elsewhere , its food business remains robust, with the division expected to report 0.3% rise in like-for-like sales when it updates the City later this week.

It comes after Next chief executive Lord Wolfson warned last month that retailers face a bumpy road ahead. He said 2016 would be the toughest year the sector has faced since 2008, as it braces itself for a slowdown in consumer spending.

Mr Rowe, who has spent more than 25 year at the retailer, said M&S had a habit of over-complicating things and he would endeavour to keep it simple.

He added: " Doing things simply means we serve customers better, manage costs, and work more efficiently.

"I wholeheartedly believe in the growth of this business. We need to work together and work smarter in order to do it, but I know that it's achievable and that we can achieve it in a profitable way for our shareholders."

Mr Bolland, who took on the post of chief executive in early 2010, retired on Saturday, but will remain on hand to help with the handover to Mr Rowe until the end of June.

Analysts at HSBC expect the company's turn around to "accelerate" under Mr Rowe, but said trading would be continue to be difficult.

They added: "In the interim period trading conditions have remained challenging and M&S is unlikely to have bucked wider market trends. A promotion-led uptick in non-food sales/high street footfall in January has been off-set by weather-led declines in February and March."

A spokesman for Marks & Spencer said "all general merchandising business unit directors will continue to report into Steve as they work together to move the business forward".

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