The general manager of the new Marks & Spencer store at Westfield London talks to Charlotte Marrion about launches and luxury toilets.
What kind of retail theatre can we expect to see in Marks & Spencer’s new Westfield London store?
The store is full of exciting bespoke features. Our flower shop has a water wall backdrop, we’ve used new mannequins which enliven the product display and we’ve created impact display runways at both entrances. Our fitting rooms, premium toilets and reconfigured pay points will enhance the customer experience.
How easy is it to inject an individual personality into a new store?
Every store has its own personality and each manager brings something different. At Westfield London, all the retailers have been encouraged to produce something special and I think M&S has surpassed that. We have created a bespoke environment with lots of unique design features, a green layout and a new hospitality offer including a deli bar in the heart of the womenswear department, so that our customers can sit and have a glass of wine while watching over the sales floor. We’ve thought hard about the flow of the store and created boutique-style areas with an intimate feel. I’ve worked closely with a dedicated team in head office to profile the space and merchandise.
You’ve been involved in opening quite a few new stores for M&S. What is the atmosphere around a launch like?
There is nothing to equal the buzz of being involved in a brand new store. I love the process of recruiting my management team and staff and the challenge of getting them trained as well as having a full-on building programme. This time too I have had the opportunity to set the tone of the store and its culture going forward, which is something you don’t always get the chance to do.
How will your job change the longer the store is open?
There are two phases to come. The first is to focus on staff training; leading by example and achieving exceptional standards. The fact that we’ll be going into a busy Christmas peak will make it all the more challenging. The second phase is understanding the customer coming to Westfield London and to M&S and making decisions about the products and services that we’re offering.
How can more young people be encouraged to work in retail?
At M&S, we have learned that it’s critical to have high standards of training and a clearly defined career path. When choosing a career, it’s important to be able to understand where one can get to; young people want to see what their opportunities are and how quickly they can progress. They have to be able to see the rewards. In retail, that means getting a level of accountability quickly. For people who are ambitious and love working with other people, there is no other job which offers such diversity.
How is M&S different from when you first started working there in 1990?
It is much faster paced, trends are quicker and product turnover is faster. The leaps in technology over the past 10 years have helped store managers make better informed
decisions about their customers’ shopping habits. The culture of M&S hasn’t necessarily changed but the pace within our business has become faster. Luckily, the science of retail has taken a huge leap forward to enable us to react to the market.
Who is your fashion icon and why?
I have to say Twiggy. She reinvents herself as time goes on, which is important and exciting. She also appeals to all those who knew her from the 1960s and to a new audience, whether they see her in an M&S advert or on her own television show. She impresses the hell out of me.
Plucked at the age of 16 from the obscurity of working in a hair salon, model Lesley Hornby burst onto the mid-1960s fashion scene like a frolicking gazelle, with the long, thin limbs and giant eyes that earned her the nickname Twiggy.
Her androgynous frame and short gamine haircut redefined the look of the decade and made her the first teenage supermodel. Twiggy has returned to the spotlight to model for M&S’s long-running TV, press and billboard ads alongside models such as Lily Cole and Erin O’Connor, and TV presenter Myleene Klass. She has also been a judge on TV show America’s Next Top Model and presents Twiggy’s Frock Exchange on BBC 2.