Belfast Telegraph

M&S misses trick by not delegating

By Donald C McFetridge

Hopefully a new era has arrived for Marks & Spencer, which this week announced another set of disappointing trading results. While business was brisk in food, general merchandise was not.

New chief executive Steve Rowe has vowed to turn the business around and, as a "lifer" with the company, he has an extremely good understanding of how the business works. However, it surprises me that he still wants to run the general merchandise division.

Chief executives do not make the tea or wipe the stock room floor, but it appears Mr Rowe is going to take a much more hands-on approach.

Announcing the results, he missed a golden opportunity to convince the City and stakeholders in the company of his vision for the future.

He has been CEO-in-waiting for several months now and analysts were expecting him to make a fairly significant announcement. A fresh agenda is required. Waiting until next month - as he plans - is hardly an option.

Rowe has stated he plans to simplify the business, but retailing is not the simple business it was 50 years ago. Times have changed and so have market conditions and consumer expectations.

Top of my agenda would be a "Cabinet reshuffle" and the appointment of a director to turn around the woes of the general merchandise/fashion side of the business, where greater emphasis should be placed. There are too many confusing sub-brands in the M&S fashion ranges, which need to be streamlined.

Shoppers in its food business have money to spend and could easily be converted to fashion shoppers while in-store.

It surprises me this trick has been missed.

It is, however, cheering to learn he has spent time in M&S outlets listening to what customers want.

Earlier this week I visited the new Waitrose flagship Food, Fashion and Home concept store at Canary Wharf in London, where it has managed to successfully combine all three aspects of its business under one roof.

Marks & Spencer would do well to take a leaf out of the Waitrose manual if it is to have any chance of reviving its ailing GM division.

  • Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at Ulster University

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