There's a reason M&S went out of style: As the high street giant prepares to shed thousands of jobs, RUTH SUNDERLAND argues its decline goes well beyond coronavirus lockdowns
Even the thought of the high street without Marks & Spencer is too terrible to think about. It's more than just a business, it's part of the warp and weft, the fabric of our lives.
But if things don't change soon, it will become increasingly difficult to see a happy future for the 136-year-old chain.
With M&S chairman Archie Norman having no trouble telling shareholders about it, the company is on a “burning platform” and has no “God-given right to exist”.
He made those remarks two years ago, and the situation has deteriorated significantly since then, in part due to the pandemic.
Marks & Spencer & # 39; s are embroiled in a fight for survival as the coronavirus continues to pound the main drag. The chain will roll £ 750 million worth of Ocado next month
Still, the company has a big roll next month when it enters into a £ 750 million partnership with Ocado to sell its groceries through its online delivery service.
I desperately hope this company will succeed. If not, the M&S we know and love could be broken and attacked by corporate robbers or even a toy for private equity barons.
The growth in sales is far behind that of the competition
Like the rest of the retail sector, sales have been hammered by Covid and the stock price has fallen like a stone. Reluctance to return to work has resulted in a huge drop in purchases of smart office wear, an M&S specialty.
But its decline goes far beyond the virus, which appeared even in a moment of sinking or swimming. M&S has made a number of failed attempts to reinvent itself over the past 20 years. Hopes were raised and then cruelly dashed when a parade of bosses came and went.
Millions of pounds were spent on golden hells for new leaders who were all hailed as saviors until they left with their golden goodbyes. Endless lines of clothing were launched that gained recognition from fashion journalists but had little impact on Ms. Middle Britain, who, oddly enough, found that she didn't like trendy gold hot pants.
The company has hired celebrities like Holly Willoughby to help sell its stock
Meanwhile, celebrities have been recruited to the cause, with everyone from Twiggy to Holly Willoughby plastered on billboards as pictured above. Unfortunately, the basics are often still not properly understood, and one concern is that losing 7,000 jobs could mean poor customer service. Part of the plan is for employees to be more flexible and move around in different departments.
But is that really a recipe for success? To be very clear, when women buy a bra, we want to consult a middle-aged lady with a tape measure, not the guy who cuts the ham on the deli counter.
On the plus side, Mr. Norman is one of the best retailers in this country. If someone can save M&S, they can. His deal with Ocado could be a brilliant blow. Let's hope so. But even if it does, it doesn't solve its clothing problems. Have you ever thought that a female executive could be the way to get womenswear right?
Despite all the problems, M&S is still a great UK institution. But unfortunately it reminded me of another: the Church of England. We all want it to be there, but a lot of us just don't tend to go in very often. If this does not change, we risk losing a business that, despite everything, holds a special place in our affection.
The association with Ocado was announced as a possible "brilliant hit" for the chain
Optimists will point out that M&S has weathered tough times in the past, including an aggressive takeover bid from Sir Philip Green 16 years ago. Since the start of the year, however, the share price has halved to just over £ 1.
Another bidder or private equity player may be tempted to fall. How sad it would be if our once powerful M&S ended up being light meat for a stockbroker.