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Bolland’s M&S vision ‘not radical enough’

Portfolio is only sub-brand axed in safe strategy but industry expects more changes next year.

Marks & Spencer’s strategy overhaul by new chief executive Marc Bolland has met with a cool response from the fashion industry - but sources speculate there may be more radical action to come.

Bolland this week outlined his vision to put more emphasis on the M&S name so it becomes a “brand destination of choice in its own right”, and to clarify 15 of its 16 sub-brands, turning them from “labels to real brands”. Only Portfolio, M&S’s womenswear range targeted at women over 45, will be axed.

Despite M&S increasing its clothing market share by value across all categories for the 26 weeks to October 2, rival retailers and analysts criticised Bolland for failing to adopt a more radical approach in his first strategic review of the business. They said he should have ditched more sub-brands, such as its trend-led Limited Collection aimed at younger women, and Indigo Collection, its casualwear range for women over 45.

Tony Shiret, analyst at Credit Suisse, said: “It wasn’t radical. But he was never going to tell us everything and maybe he was too embarrassed to get rid of all the stuff Sir Stuart Rose had got in place. But I think Indigo will be ‘Outigo’ next year. It has overlapped with [womenswear collection] Per Una.”

One former M&S buyer added: “It doesn’t look radical enough. I’m surprised it’s not more aggressive -there’s so much crossover and confusion with its brands than there has ever been. I thought it would look at Limited Collection as well.”

However, other industry figures predicted Bolland would come out with more radical action further down the line. It is understood M&S has discussed launching separate ad campaigns for each sub-brand.

Bolland had tasked his most senior managers earlier this year to scrutinise M&S’s fashion ranges and fashion retail experts predicted in August that Per Una would be the only sub-brand safe from the axe.

The boss of one major department store chain praised Bolland’s review. “He shouldn’t draw a line in the sand and come in all guns blazing. Why would you set yourself up? It’s about refocusing the brands and giving them a point of difference, whether he’s got one, three, five or 10. As a multi-brand business, he needs to ask ‘where are my brands positioned and what’s the brand architecture’?”

Maureen Hinton, senior retail analyst at Verdict Research, added: “It’s very difficult for a big business to come out with anything radical.”

Bolland would not be drawn on how much M&S would increase average prices by next year to account for rising cotton and freight costs, but said the retailer would try to keep opening price points as they are. “We believe we need to serve well the customers who have tightened their belts,” he said.

Bolland also said M&S, which increased its clothing market share by 60 basis points to 11.2% during the 26 weeks to October 2, would simplify the “difficult” shopping experience for customers to make it easier for them to navigate the stores. The company drilled the point home by citing an experiment it recently undertook which tasked 30 people to find five items across the store within an hour - only eight returned with all five items.

As part of the review, Bolland also said he would focus on making M&S’s clothing offer “more inspiring” and laid out plans to turn to innovation to stay ahead of its rivals, including rolling out technical fabrications to a wider range of products (see box).

The company will also launch a more personalised online clothing experience to let customers customise clothing, for example by creating a wider or slimmer fit or adding pockets to certain styles.

M&S: the way forward

  • M&S is to hire dedicated brand managers to provide support and marketing strategies for individual sub-brands. Bolland would not disclose how many positions would be added but said some brand managers may be in charge of more than one brand and that he would look both within and outside the business for candidates.
  • Fabric innovations will be key to the retailer’s strategy and will be used more widely across M&S ranges than at present. Bolland pointed to a man’s suit that uses water-resistant Stormwear fabric technology, and said: “Why not chinos? Marks & Spencer should do things others don’t.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • Fit- It might be an idea to look at fit -nothing over a size 18 fits because as far as I can gather there are no wearer trials or fitting over a size 20 . Back necks are huge -over 32cm -38cm and the grade rules are silly. They put size 22 24 & 26 on anything and nobody appears to have even looked at them so - Mr Bolland -send someone out to get a few examples and try them on. Also whoever thought the lovely size 10 Twiggy represented women of a certain age.

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