Marc Bolland is on a mission – to completely revamp the Marks & Spencer estate in two years. He shows Guy Montague-Jones how at the retailer’s flagship Kensington store
Three years ago, Sir Stuart Rose - then CEO - embarked on a huge overhaul of Marks & Spencer’s stores, forking out £2bn on addressing what he termed the “self-inflicted injury” of years of neglect.
Given its scale, you’d think it would be a good few years before the next big revamp. But last month, his successor Marc Bolland announced that the retailer was pumping a further £600m into M&S’s 700-plus British stores with a view to giving 100 a makeover by next March and the entire estate by the end of 2013.
Ripping up floors and installing new signs and lights during the first refit improved the “core infrastructure”, but failed to deliver “an inspirational shopping environment”, explains Bolland during a guided tour of the chain’s Kensington store, the first to get the new look. The latest revamp will provide that inspiration and help generate an extra £1bn in sales revenue over the next three years, he believes.
The 77,000 sq ft store is certainly an improvement on the old one. Charcoal mannequins clad in the latest M&S fashion stare seductively out at passers-by on Kensington High Street, while inside the store designers have toned down the old colour palette for generally fewer and paler colours in a bid to create a calmer in-store environment. In the food aisles, ambient shelves have been fitted with rustic wooden shelf-edging. The flowers and plants have been re-potted in shiny new galvanised metal flower pots. There’s even a Vespa scooter on display on a clothing floor.
The revamp is not just aesthetic. After the last overhaul, customers complained that the stores were still difficult to navigate, that the positioning of the clothes brands was unclear and that M&S Food had become “too much like the others” (partly because the competition had aped M&S’s food ideas, of course).
Bolland’s response to this has been to try and reposition M&S Food as an even more aspirational foodie offering. The denizens of Kensington can now stock up on such delights as cranberry & toasted pecan batons and San Francisco-style sourdough from a new, rustic-looking bakery complete with blackboard signage and wicker baskets.
Bolland reckons M&S will be able to trump its rivals’ offerings with in-store delis like the Kensington store’s, where Wiltshire ham is carved on the counter in front of customers and fresh pasta comes straight from the deli’s own machine.
Product ranges have also been extended. M&S has added 100 new international brands, including Sant’Eustachio coffee from Rome and Divan Turkish delight, which will largely be exclusive to M&S in the UK, claims Bolland. Meanwhile, its Best of British products are being given a push with new packaging and posters. “We really wanted to get home our provenance message and relationships with suppliers,” says Bolland.
The new look continues in the clothing department. Bolland wants M&S to better promote and differentiate its brands so all the fashion lines now have their own corresponding mannequins and props Collezione is marked by the Vespa scooter, other brands by chandeliers or mini catwalks. Around the floors, new signage makes it easier for customers to find what they are looking for.
The top floor of the Kensington store houses a category that Bolland hopes will gain significant ground in coming years homeware. He admits only one in five of his customers currently shops for homeware in M&S.
The addition of a new furniture range by Sir Terence Conran, along with a host of other home and kitchenware products, also displayed on the food floor, are part of Bolland’s bid to change that.
The Kensington store offers a glimpse of what M&S consumers throughout the country will see at their local branches over the coming months. The retailer will study what works and what doesn’t at Kensington and 13 other pilot stores, including the new 136,000 sq ft store in Westfield Stratford, between now and Christmas.
Exactly what is introduced at individual stores will vary according to size and format so, for example, only six of the pilot stores will have a deli counter installed this year.
M&S also plans to pay close attention to local demographics when it comes to layout and range. “In areas with lots of young families, kids’ clothing will have a bigger footprint,” says Bolland.
With high street sales remaining depressed and the supermarkets upping their game on premium food, the new additions in Kensington could just give M&S the edge it needs.