Bolland brings the spark back to Marks


Marc Bolland’s long awaited review of Marks & Spencer’s business brought with it ambitious plans for every area of the company.

As part of the three-year strategy outlined alongside M&S’s half-year results, Bolland touched upon every area of the business. If executed well, his vision will inject a healthy dose of inspiration to the already well performing retailer and build on existing opportunities.

However, Bolland says his strategic initiatives serve as an “evolution not a revolution” of the business and brand and he highlights the importance of looking at its heritage in order to move forward.

Yesterday (9 November), M&S reported a strong set of results for the six months to 2 October. Profit increased 17% and sales were up 5.6%,which indicates that M&S isn’t in need of a revolution.


One of the key messages from Bolland is that M&S needs to regain some of its “unique and special” positioning to differentiate itself.

M&S sits happily at the mid-point between supermarkets and speciality retailers, but Bolland is keen to re-establish the chain firmly at the “speciality” end of the scale by highlighting its innovative products and services.

The introduction of the “Only at M&S” brand positioning will serve to draw attention to innovations and products that are exclusive to M&S.

“The M&S brand needs to do things that other brands don’t do, not follow the crowd,” he said.


Bolland admits that M&S has fallen down on its customer focus and has perhaps been a little to focused on its product, that said he says its product range is now “best in class”.

He has gone further with its fashion labels than his predecessor and is in the process of appointing brand managers for each fashion label for the first time.

It’s a clear indication of the value Bolland puts on brands and marketing that each of its own label brands is to be transformed into what he calls a “real brand” rather than just another in-house fashion label.


He’s also identified and openly admitted that M&S stores are not what they should be despite a comprehensive modernisation across the estate in recent years – something brand managers will have to work on to bring the brands to life in store.

It’s also been apparent in recent years that the glitzy image that M&S portrays in its advertising with stars such as Twiggy and Dannii Minogue, doesn’t translate terribly well to the store experience shoppers find on the high street.

Bolland is aware of this “lost in translation” issue and will no doubt be tasking the brand managers to address the issue and translate the marketing principles that drive its advertising into stores.


Bolland’s review highlights a number of opportunities that have been there for the taking for some time, but simply haven’t been on the retailer’s radar.

Growing its home furnishings business, which currently attracts only 20% of M&S shoppers is a no-brainer.

As are the opportunities M&S has to cross-promote complementary products in stores. For instance co-locating its fragrances and personal care products with its lingerie department is a natural opportunity.

Likewise, half of M&S’s business is food, so it’s only logical that it should also be a significant player in the kitchenware market.


While its core UK business is set to be the focus for the coming three years, Bolland’s plans for M&S internationally are nothing if not ambitious.

International growth appears to be inextricably linked to the development of M&S’s multi-channel operations.

Bolland plans to transform M&S “from a UK multi-channel retailer to an international multi-channel retailer” by 2015.

For this reason, M&S will sever its relationship with Amazon, which hosts its online platform, in 2013 in favour of building its own more flexible platform to accelerate international growth.

While Bolland’s vision is comprehensive and nothing has been missed over the course of his six-month review, his vision is not a complete departure from what his predecessor Sir Stuart Rose had been building – merely a fresh look at things.

As succinctly put by Neil Saunders, consulting director of Verdict: “If Marc Bolland can build the vision he has set out today, he will firmly but the spark back into Marks.”


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