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A fashion sales revival is Rose’s parting gift to M&S

Business was revitalised during Sir Stuart Rose’s seven years at the helm, yet his tenure had its lows too.

Sir Stuart Rose, the charismatic and often controversial retailer, stepped down from his role as chairman at Marks & Spencer this week without any of the fanfare usually associated with the man charged with turning around the fortunes of the UK’s largest clothing retailer.

After almost seven years at M&S, Rose played out his last days as chairman far from the British high street in Australia, watching the Ashes cricket matches.

The low-key departure contrasted with his high-profile arrival in May 2004 when he was viewed as the only man capable of fending off a hostile takeover attempt by tycoon Sir Philip Green and restoring the fortunes of the legendary business including the reversal of its stuttering fashion sales.

Rose’s tenure at M&S was a time of highs and lows, of adulation and harsh criticism in equal measure. While Rose was able to return M&S to its glory days as it once more posted profits of more than £1bn in 2008, his legacy in the fashion stakes remained mixed.

Rose took centre stage at M&S when he was parachuted in to counter criticisms that the retailer had lost touch with its core 30-something female shopper. The competition had stolen a march on M&S, and Rose’s mantra, by necessity, focused on quality, value, service, innovation and trust.

By autumn 04, the first clothing season under the control of Rose and then director of womenswear Kate Bostock, who had joined M&S only months before Rose, benefitted from a renewed impetus, including a new advert for M&S’s clothing ranges which was well received.

Soon afterwards, the sales fall halted in clothing, but the retailer’s fashion market share continued to slip. However, by the 2006/07 financial year, it was clawing back share with its revised offer attracting more footfall.

The following year, however, clothing sales again suffered as the recession took hold and young pretenders to the fashion crown including Primark and George at Asda snapped at M&S’s heels. Sales barely rose as deflation continued but market share kept moving ahead.

In 2005, M&S accounted for 10.5% of the womenswear market by value. The proportion rose to just over 11% in 2007 and in the two most recent financial years dropped to 10.5% and 9.2% respectively.

Menswear value share was 9.6% in 2005 compared with last year when it was 10.4%. Lingerie market share was 24.3% by value in 2005, rising to 25.9% by value last year.

Rose’s increased emphasis on value through the good, better, best pricing architecture and increased open-to-buy budget allowed for more fashion newness, although many have continued to criticise the sheer number of sub-brands within its fashion department, which were deemed “confusing” for shoppers.

One of the most common criticisms levelled at Rose was that he had too proprietorial an attitude to M&S - something seemingly played out by a string of high-profile departures and the controversy surrounding his dual role as chairman and chief executive in 2008. Critics argued that power had gone to Rose’s head and that M&S still faced some of the same fundamental problems as when he arrived at the retailer.

The issue of Rose’s successor became a business soap opera until the appointment of Marc Bolland, former chief executive of supermarket chain Morrisons, who took up the reins in May 2010.

In November, Bolland presented his findings and updated strategy to the City. Rose, for once not on the stage in front of investors, watched from the audience.

Bolland’s fashion strategy is yet to be fully played out in sales and market share figures, but the indications are that he will continue the fashion strategies set in place by Rose. Rose’s legacy will impact upon M&S for many seasons to come.

The Rose years in numbers: Sales and profits
Year (to March)SalesPre-tax profitGross margin
2005£7.94bn£745.3m 34.70%
Source: Retail Week Knowledge Bank 

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