As Marks & Spencer reported a slight improvement in general merchandise sales this morning Drapers reports from the retailer’s live AGM.
11am: The AGM kicks off with chairman Robert Swannell introducing the board members.
11.07: Swannell says that M&S is becoming an international multichannel business, making “substantial investments” in products, stores, supply chain and infrastructure.
11.08: “We are modernising M&S from top to bottom and that takes a rare mix of capabilities,” says Swannell.
11.09: Swannell says the retailer has a “sound base” for international expansion.
11.11: “Quality will always be the cornerstone for eveything M&S does,” says Swannel. The retailer is introducing longer hemlines, more dresses with sleeves, bolder colours, a focus on tailored trousers and more nobel yarns such as silk and cashmere. These changes will be seen in the autumn collection coming into stores later this month.
11.14: “We do not cut corners at Marks & Spencer and we will not cut corners at Marks & Spencer,” says Swannell.
11.16: “We can’t deliver the level of change we require without hard work and commitment. Everyone in the business works hard and shows that level of commitment,” says Swannell as he thanks M&S employees.
11.17: Chief executive Marc Bolland has now taken to the microphone.
11.18: With regards to general merchandise Bolland says: “We dont want to disguise that we are not happy. I believe this is unsatisfactory.”
11.19: “Three of the four business parts are making strong progress,” says Bolland.
11.20: In GM Bolland says there has been some growth in the first quarter but not enough.
11.24: M&S found from feedback there was a lack of clarity between sub-brands were told that the stores were “lacking inspiration”, says Bolland.
11.26: “We needed more people in with different capabilities,” says Bolland, and emphasises a focus on “young talent”.
11.27: “Concept stores will be rolled out to all your areas,” says Bolland.
11.28: The new ecommerce site will inspire people to buy he adds.
11.31: Bolland says one of the priorities over the next year is to “execute the womenswear plan”. He adds the retailer will “reassert the leadership in quality. We are not cutting corners but we know we can do better, he says. “And do it with style, do it with the right handwriting, and also to bring collections with clear distinctions between the sub-brands.”
11.36: Bolland calls Belinda Earl the “best of British handwriting” as she takes to the microphone.
11.37: Earl says she has revisited M&S’ archive to see what made it so successful in the past.
11.38: Since September we have been firmly in “listen mode” says Earl, with the retailer undergoing “extensive customer research.
11.39: “For autumn 90% of our dresses will have sleeves,” says Earl. “And I can promise you we mean real sleeves… cap-cleeves have been reclassified as sleeveless. Sleeves are in.”
11.40: “Autograph epitomises affordable luxury,” adds Earl, with quality added into all collections. Buttons and hems now have “safe technology” meaning buttons stay on and hems stay up.
11.41: M&S is also reforming its menswear.
11.41: Following reports Per Una wasn’t “hitting the mark” its roots have been revisited and glamour has been “injected”.
11.43: A durable heel technology has been developed to stop as much wear on the heel.
11.45: M&S has re-evaluated sizes and womenswear will have sizes from 8 to 22 with size 24 available online.
11.46: The retailer has created a capsule collection of smartwear titled the Best of British range, which is 100% designed and manufactured in Britain.
11.47: “We are putting the pride back into the brand,” says Earl.
11.48: Bolland thanks outgoing marketing director Steve Sharp, who is leaving the company after nine years.
11.53: Swannell throws the floor open to shareholders to ask questions.
11.54: One shareholder says he is “all too aware of ‘bog-standard clothing’, unacceptable queues and an abysmal attitude to health and safety.” He says the retailer must get its home market right as 80% of profits come from the UK. “The overwhelming priority is to get the home market right,” he says.
11.56: Swannell says the prime focus is the UK and the board has been around the country looking at the retailer’s facilities. “We have got our eyes incredibly firmly focused on the UK,” he adds.
11.59: “Just how long are we supposed to wait until we see results,” replies the shareholder.
12pm: “We are here to make the right decisions for this business in the long-term… even if there is some short term pain,” says Swannell.
12.25: G&M boss John Dixon “encourages” audience to visit M&S stores at the end of this month to view the new autumn 13 collection. “We’ve spent an enormous amount of time with our core customers and shareholders. 55% of our sales come from the 55-plus customer and 75% of our sales from the 45-plus,” he said.