So long Sir Stuart
Few would argue that Sir Stuart Rose's tenure at M&S hasn't left the company in better shape than when he arrived. But, argues Josephine Collins, the journey he set the iconic retailer upon is far from over.
So urbane Sir Stuart Rose has finally said goodbye to Marks & Spencer after a controversial six years at the top. His more recent double role as chairman and chief executive may have aggravated City traditionalists - as a result of too much ego some said - but his tenure has certainly been a colourful one from stories of punch ups with Arcadia's Sir Philip Green to his seemingly permanent position on London's party scene.
While Rose clearly had M&S in his DNA, one of his (many) criticisms of the business when he joined back in 2004 was that the retailer had lost its way on product - and he was right.
He is a product man through and through, taking over from the accountants who had been running the business and he could see what commentators and customers could see in store - as well as on the balance sheet. Product lacked fashion credentials and the myriad sub-brands created confusion.
It wasn't just about the product itself, but the way it was displayed. The retailer needed to differentiate its clothing collections on the frequently vast floor areas in its property estate. At that time you could walk into the large city stores and be faced with a sea of black trousers. It was doubtlessly the best selection available in the UK - but deeply unattractive to shop.
Rose set about cutting and bringing some logic to the sub-brand portfolio. Some of the clothing brands that have bitten the dust are Per Una Due, Perfect and Essential on womenswear; SP Clothing and View From in menswear; and DB07 on childrenswear (well, it couldn't really persist after Beckham stopped wearing number 7).
More recent celebrity-branded failures are Zandra Rhodes and Katy Livingston on sportswear.
When Rose joined the retailer it was George Davies' Per Una that was apparently driving M&S womenswear sales. Rose quickly moved to buy the brand for £125 million and Davies eventually left the brand, after some public spats. This range apparently brought in younger customers to the store. While Per Una does have a very loyal customer base, anyone who shops or works, in M&S knows that youth is not necessarily the common factor among them.
Rose was also conscious of the rise of value fashion retailers and believed that the M&S offer was not good enough value for shoppers. So, at the same time as the rethink on sub-brands was taking place, a "good, better, best" pricing architecture was introduced.
I have always been of the view that M&S should not try to rival Primark. And at the lower end the quality of the product has been sacrificed to such an extent that the M&S core values are, I believe, compromised. If I want an extremely cheap basic T-shirt I will go to Primark, if I want something a bit better M&S is my destination.
And slowly the sub-brands again crept back into the business. There may have been some logic brought to the way they are used across product categories but womenswear's Autograph and Per Una were joined by Classic, Limited Collection, Indigo, Portfolio and Per Una Speziale. Menswear has seven labels - Autograph and Limited plus Big & Tall, Blue Harbour, Blue Harbour Luxury, Collezione and North Coast.
So are the collections selling well? Market share is a good indicator. For 2009/2010, M&S achieved a clothing market share of just over 9% - very poor indeed. On the three-monthly results there is always shifting at the top of the table depending on season and promotional activity, but there have been some spectacular lows - like last summer's 10.2%, placing M&S behind both Primark and Asda.
But things may be on the up. The latest figures released by M&S as part of its third quarter statement had it climbing up to 11.8% clothing market share for the three months ended on November 1st last year. However, it is the whole year share that really counts and we won't see those until we get into mid 2011.
Perhaps one of Rose's greatest legacy's is the store refurbishment that has taken place during his tenure. The stores look better and are easier to shop. But while the sea of product no longer meets customers as they step through the doors, the issue of sub-brands is yet to be resolved.
Rose's successor as chief executive, Marc Bolland, has expressed just the same concerns about the proliferation of sub-brands and what they mean to customers as Rose did back in 2004.
Portfolio has already bitten the dust and brand managers are being put in place to ensure that the brands that remain - and there will be more fall-out - have distinctive identities.
This should start coming through in the spring collections. The work that Rose started is far from complete and I am getting a slight feeling of deja vu...