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New broom at M-amp;S vows sweeping reform

A new broom is sweeping through high street stalwart Marks -amp; Spencer. Marc Bolland has been anointed chief executive of M-amp;S, and like a new prime minister, he has lost no time ditching the policies and preferences of his predecessor.

Yesterday the Dutchman revealed his vision for his reign at the store, which follows that of Sir Stuart Rose.

Under the apt but unimaginative tagline 'evolution, not revolution,' he vowed to clamp down on brand fragmentation by elevating the standing of M-amp;S. That will involve the death of instore clothing label Portfolio and the almost complete reversal of Sir Stuart's decision to bring brand names like Coca Cola into stores.

Mr Bolland's new vision was announced along with results which showed half-year pre-tax profits of £348.8m, up from £306.7m last year.

His 'back to basics' approach of reducing non-branded M-amp;S lines from 400 to 100 could be an important signal of confidence and determination.

It never fails to confuse shoppers who have grown up on M-amp;S to see familiar brand names amid a sea of own-brand produce on its shelves, as the company declared: "Branded foods will play a role only where we cannot develop our own 'best in class' M-amp;S alternatives."

Mr Bolland has also revealed plans to add more overseas stores so that the chain becomes less sensitive to the vagaries of the UK's economic cycle. He will also add to the canon of memorable M-amp;S ad campaigns and slogans, with a new 'only at M-amp;S' branding.

His brave new world follows research by McKinsey which found customers struggled to distinguish between the forest of M-amp;S sub-brands, from men's Blue Harbour to women's Autograph, Portfolio, Per Una and Weekend.

That too will be a sensible move and a sign of confidence, particularly given that other successful clothing retailers channel their success through just one or two brand names.

One of those retailers, value chain Primark, announced its results yesterday with annual operating profits to September of £341m, up 26%.

The company has warned of increasing cotton costs but has vowed not to pass those onto customers by absorbing the rising costs itself.

While M-amp;S and Primark are not natural rivals, the latter, and all other high street chains, will scrutinise any M-amp;S rebirth with great interest.