New Marks & Spencer boss Steve Rowe promises more style for 'unsatisfactory' fashion

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Marks & Spencer’s new boss today vowed to leave no stone unturned in his quest to overturn the High Street stalwart’s “unsatisfactory” performance in clothing after yet another slump in womenswear sales.

Steve Rowe, who took over as chief executive this week, said improving the retailer’s clothing and homeware was at the top of his to-do list after it revealed a 2.7% decline in same-store sales in its fourth quarter.

That was slightly better than expected and an improvement on the 5.8% drop over Christmas, but the M&S veteran, in his debut address to the City, said it remained “unsatisfactory”.

“We were not as stylish as we needed to be, we did not have products available when [customers] wanted them and we needed to make sure we had the right products in the right places,” he said.

Rowe will retain control of his previous department — general merchandise — everything but food and contributing about 60% of M&S’s profit. He said that some improvements, including price reductions and upgrades in quality, were already beginning to show through, but that a strategic review was under way.

“There’s an awful lot of self-help M&S can do. We’ve given ourselves a number of exam questions looking at every aspect of the business… We’re not leaving a stone unturned.”He will present his findings when the retailer reports full-year results in May.

M&S shares rose 5.7p to 426p as investors appeared to side with analysts willing to give Rowe, who started his career as a Saturday boy in M&S in Croydon, a chance to revive the 132-year-old retailer.

“Though it is only an act of faith to some degree, he is an executive we are minded to back, one with the commitment, energy and insight to take M&S on a better course, something for which long-standing shareholders pine,” said Shore Capital’s Clive Black.

At M&S’ food business, same-store sales in the 13 weeks to March 26 were flat, bringing its run of 25 quarters of growth to an end. Market share grew to 4.3%, however, and the company said it had outperformed in a “highly competitive market”.

The retailer’s international business was hit by currency headwinds, as well as political and economic pressures in Turkey, Ukraine, Russia and the Middle East and M&S said the unit’s full-year profits are expected to be significantly down on the year before.

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April 8, 2016 |
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