New M&S CEO Marc Bolland announces strategy

Bolland is hoping to maintain that growth through a combination of international expansion, a re-focus on the core M&S brand, and the promise of a 'fuller shop' for shoppers.

Bolland plans to increase the number of M&S products in food halls by 1,000, promising to improve the retail darling's food efforts with a core focus on 'fresh, speciality and convenience foods'. He will also strip back the number of branded (non-M&S) products recently introduced onto shelves from 400 to 100, leaving only products M&S can't replicate, such as Marmite. Bolland here reverses an initiative of his much-lauded predecessor Sir Stuart Rose - and this isn't the only one he's taking on.

Bolland is also axing the Portfolio clothing range, brought in by Rose in 2008, again with the aim of focusing on the 'core' M&S brand. He plans to give fellow sub-labels Per Una and Autograph more 'clarity' and 'distinctive values'.

But Bolland is being careful not to tread too heavily on the toes of Rose as he goes (Rose leaves by the new year). Bolland said this morning: "The business is in good shape and we have strong foundations on which to build, through evolution not revolution." He plans to keep M&S 'special', he said.

Bolland's changes come as the result of an in-depth review carried out with management consultancy McKinsey. The research found M&S customers find stores difficult to navigate, can't understand the differences between clothing brands, and that M&S has not grown quickly in terms of space over the last two years in comparison with high street rivals.

To address the latter of these concerns, Bolland has set a target of getting 95% of the UK population within a half-hour drive of a 'full-size' M&S store by 2015, which works out as an additional 3% total floor space per year for the chain. Bolland hopes his UK strategy, weighing in at up to £900m investment over the next three years, will increase revenues in this country by £1bn - £1.5bn per year by 2014.

Alongside the UK expansion comes a strategy for less dependency on the UK economy, through fairly aggressive plans to increase M&S's presence and profits overseas. A planned 337 new stores in other countries (including franchises) will increase international reach. "We want to put more stores down in places like India, where we already are, but could be stronger," Bolland told the BBC. China is also a consideration, he said.

For the most part, we're liking Bolland's plans. Increased overseas presence becomes an ever-more important step for businesses big and small, for as long as our economy is as unpredictable and relatively unstable as it is now. Getting a good foot in India and China - much, much faster-growing economies than ours - is a no-brainer. And getting the edge there now over other UK high-street brands builds consumer loyalty early on while hopefully hedging the risk of UK expansion.

We can see the logic in scaling down branded products to take M&S back to its old M&S feel (own-brand), but we've actually quite liked being able to buy other brands when we pick up our groceries from M&S. M&S products tend to be more expensive, so it's saved us having to spread a shop across two stores. We'll have to wait and see whether the general shopping public agrees - because if choice of brands and price-points is as important as we suspect it might be, M&S could find itself losing out to more diverse supermarkets.

Big ticks for giving the clothing sub-labels more distinctive identities though, and improving shop navigation, and for taking M&S food back to its high-quality essence (come on, we all know how amazing really good M&S food can be, when it's at its best).

All these changes will take a few years to settle in, and we'll have to wait that long to really judge their impact - but here's to some exciting new measures for our beloved high street behemoth, and a warm welcome to a new CEO with interesting ideas and one who is unafraid to step out the safety of Stuart Rose's shadow.

What do you think of M&S's new strategy? What would you do differently? We'd love to hear your views below.



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