It's all doom and gloom at M&S. Where's Paddington?

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Marks & Spencer

Closing stores and lowering food prices, M&S is in S&M mode right now. It might be the right thing to do but it’s not good for topline figures, with the food business in particular, where like-for-like sales fell 2.9%, clearly in a pickle.

It didn’t help that there was so little sparkle and magic - and by that I mean handy distractions or silver linings - in the senior management team’s downbeat assessment. There’s a new management structure, to provide greater focus, and some impressive recruits, including Stuart Machin and (when he finally arrives) George Wright on the food side. And fire-fighting CEO Steve Rowe also mentioned the ‘Best Ever’ range, only three-strong at present (a prawn sandwich, burger and steak & ale pie), but for a business struggling to achieve standout with its NPD - with so many tanks having parked for so many years on its premium lawns - it’s a useful antidote to the value message it’s now pushing.

Opinion: Dine In’s demise is a symbol of M&S malaise

Other than that it was all doom and gloom. Rowe seemed to warm to Archie Norman’s ‘failing business’ tune. It was all Eeyore. Where was Paddington? M&S food is too expensive. Dine In is unprofitable. Availability needs sorting. E-commerce isn’t fit for purpose. And perhaps most damning, the fact that most of the profits come from a handful of larger stores. All that time and effort that’s gone into building a huge convenience operation, clustered around cities and towns, and basically, convenience isn’t working for M&S. It looks like M&S, rather than Morrisons or Amazon/Whole Foods Market, might be the best option for any disposals if the Sainsbury’s/Asda merger is approved.

The point is this: as important as it is that Steve and Archie are facing into the fires, they have to put some of them out. They need to get the bad news out of the way and start coming up with positive news. They need some bright sparks and brilliant ideas. And they need them fast. The clock is ticking. M&S turnarounds have failed too many times. If they cannot come up with reasons to believe, it’s not just that M&S will fail. Steve and Archie will lose their (hair) shirts too.

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