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Can Marc Bolland export Marks & Spencer to the world?

Others have tried and failed of course, notably the regime of Sir Rick Greenbury which bought a number of flagship stores in Europe and also Ivy League outfitter Brooks Brothers and Kings supermarkets in the US.

But Bolland, as part of his ‘strategic review,’ says he’s going to try again through franchise operations in Shanghai and India especially.

He says he’s aiming to add £2.5bn of sales over the next few years of which about half is intended to come from overseas. Some of the rest will come from a bigger online operation and he’s going to end M&S’s deal with Amazon to go it alone after 2013.

The question really is whether M&S is too British a taste to work in other markets. Your correspondent recalls poking his nose into a gleaming new M&S store in a prime location near the top of Barcelona’s Ramblas a decade or so ago and being surprised that there seemed to be nobody else there.

It was also mystifying why M&S, having paid £500m for Brooks Brothers, a big sum in 1988, did absolutely nothing with it. You couldn’t find a Brooks Brothers item anywhere in the UK. Brooks and King’s were eventually offloaded at a thumping loss.

Bolland, who first made his mark at Heineken before joining UK supermarket Morrison’s, is clearly not that daft. But neither is the management of US supermarket giant Wal-Mart and it has singularly failed to export its formula to Europe, resorting to buying Asda in the UK.

Tesco has succeeded in central Europe, Thailand and South Korea but failed in France and the jury is still out on its Fresh & Easy convenience chain on the US West Coast.

Conversely the likes of Hennes & Mauritz, Mango and Zara have prospered mightily in overseas markets although they began as primarily teenie brands although they’ve broadened their appeal since. Arcadia’s Sir Philip Green is always telling us how Topshop is going to conquer the world but it hasn’t yet.

One of the problems is finding enough decent sites to build a real presence and, of course, the money to pay for them.

M&S shares fell in London yesterday, despite its robust profits, as investors fretted about how much this would all cost (and whether it would work). The consensus was that M&S would need a rights issue to pay for the £1bn or so Bolland says it will require. He will also need to recruit some experienced international managers.

The other fear is that all this international stuff will take the company’s eye off the UK where M&S operates in a highly-competitive market against the likes of Next and John Lewis at one end and Primark at the other, with the big supermarkets all anxious to increase their share of non-food sales.

So it looks like Bolly will have to start earning the £8m-odd he’s set to trouser in his first year at M&S.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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