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Product key for Rowe’s replacement at M&S

The new head of general merchandise at Marks & Spencer must be “a product person” with specific experience in womenswear to turn around slumping fashion sales, retail chief executives have said.

Last week the high street stalwart announced that general merchandise boss Steve Rowe would replace Marc Bolland as chief executive in April, leaving his position free at the firm. The announcement came as M&S also revealed its general merchandise fortunes had continued to stall with a 5.8% drop in like-for-like sales for the 13 weeks ending December 26, which it blamed on the unseasonable weather and stock availability.

The chief executive of one high street multiple said Rowe would “need help” on the product side of the business.

“Rowe is a solid trader type, an old school retailer – he is not a creative or product type, so he will need help on fashion.

”I think they might look at Jo Jenkins [current director for womenswear, lingerie and beauty at M&S] for the role but whoever gets the job needs to make a change.”

He added: “The fashion product has to be elevated. It is going in a different direction to the food which is sitting in the middle to luxury-end of things [with fashion getting cheaper]. You can’t have the other half of your business at the complete opposite end of the scale.”

The managing director of one womenswear multiple said: “The head of GM role at M&S is one of the hardest in UK retail, as the customer base is a broad church. It was going well a few years ago when there was stability among the team but there has been too much change. There was a very high turnover of staff at that top level and the next one down, so it was impossible for anyone to see a strategy through.”

He added: “One person who I think could have developed into the right man for the role is Richard Price [currently CEO of F&F. He was trading director at M&S from 2005 to 2012]. He is a product man and he understands both menswear and womenswear. They should have hung on to him. Whoever they get in has to understand womenswear – it is crucial if the business is to turnaround.”

One retail source close to the business said: “Steve will build his own team around him now but the new GM boss needs to look at both the product and availability in stores, it’s about reconnecting with the M&S customer.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • If M and S wants to regain it's prowess in womenswear, the focus needs to be on the customer and service.

    Instore is the only battleground where it can be won.

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  • darren hoggett

    Rowe should work out why Food is so successful and transfer that to clothing. People generally don't mind paying a bit more IF the quality is there and that has arguably been lacking as M&S have had their eye taken of the ball by looking beneath them.

    M&S should be upper/middle market if it is to achieve real long term success, but that will mean a lot of hard work and a complete overhaul of many of the stores, which is long overdue.

    M&S' potential is under valued in my opinion and if Rowe isn't a creative type, that can only be a good thing as the business needs a no nonsense type to sort things out.

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