Marks & Spen­cer is sho­wing its agea

L’en­seigne bri­tan­nique em­blé­ma­tique en perte de vi­tesse.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Sommaire -

La marque bri­tan­nique Marks & Spen­cer ne va pas bien. Au grand dam des em­ployés et des clients les plus fi­dèles, la di­rec­tion an­non­çait cet été la fer­me­ture d’ici à 2022 d’une cen­taine de ma­ga­sins au Royaume-Uni, après des ré­sul­tats en perte de vi­tesse. L’en­seigne em­blé­ma­tique, créée à la fin du 19e siècle, peut-elle sur­vivre à l’avè­ne­ment de la vente en ligne et des nou­veaux modes de consom­ma­tion ?

Stock­ton-on-Tees, En­gland — This on­ce­boo­ming Coun­ty Du­rham mar­ket town in the nor­theast cor­ner of En­gland has so­me­thing of a grand past. Known for a time as the Queen of the North, Stock­ton was the de­par­ture point in 1825 for the world’s first pu­blic pas­sen­ger rail-

way. It was al­so the place, in the 1880s, where Mi­chael Marks, a pen­ni­less Po­lish im­mi­grant, got his start as a mar­ket pedd­ler, the ear­ly stir­rings of a bu­si­ness that would even­tual­ly be­come one

of the coun­try’s best-known brand names, Marks & Spen­cer. Stock­ton had one of the first stores in the coun­try.

2. M & S — or Marks and Sparks, as its af­fec­tio­na­te­ly cal­led — is now a cultu­ral fix­ture in the dai­ly lives of mil­lions of Bri­tons. Most girls are

fit­ted for their first bras at M & S. A third of the coun­try goes to the store to buy kni­ckers, the Bri­tish word for un­der­wear. Its Co­lin the Ca­ter­pillar cakes are om­ni­present at bir­th­day par­ties for kids and adults alike, while the chain’s staple can­dy, the gum­my Per­cy Pig, sells at a rate of 10 pigs per se­cond, or 300 mil­lion per year.

3. But on Aug. 11, the Marks & Spen­cer store here clo­sed. As pro­fit falls and e-com­merce re­shapes re­tail, the com­pa­ny will shut 100 stores by 2022 — a cor­po­rate re­struc­tu­ring that will play out in com­mu­ni­ties. “It’s the end of an era, real­ly — it’s ever so sad,” Joe Har­land, 84, said as he whee­led his M & S gro­ce­ry trol­ley from the store to the car park this sum­mer be­fore it clo­sed.

BRI­TISH RE­TAI­LERS

4. Marks & Spen­cer is far from the on­ly Bri­tish re­tai­ler ex­pe­rien­cing dif­fi­cul­ty. House of Fra­ser col­lap­sed [this sum­mer], re­qui­ring a last-mi­nute bai­lout. De­ben­hams looks li­ke­ly to fol­low suit. And pro­fit at John Le­wis plum­me­ted 99 percent in the first half of the year. But M & S is un­der at­tack from all sides. Com­pe­ti­tors sell chea­per, tren­dier clothes; su­per­mar­kets have rai­sed the qua­li­ty of their food; and on­line shop­ping has be­come the norm.

5. “If you were buil­ding from scratch, you would not com­bine mid­price fa­shion with pre­mium food and a bit of fur­ni­ture,” said Na­ta­lie Berg, a consul­tant at NBK Re­tail. “They are stuck with a bu­si­ness mo­del that is not real­ly re­le­vant any more.” The spread of Marks & Spen­cer’s shop-floor of­fe­rings — once the bea­ting heart of its ap­peal — could be its Achilles’ heel. In May, the chain an­noun­ced a 62 percent drop in pre­tax pro­fit to less than 67 mil­lion pounds, or rough­ly $87 mil­lion, drag­ged down by re­struc­tu­ring costs along­side slum­ping sales in food and clo­thing.

HIS­TO­RY

6. Foun­ded in 1884, with a slo­gan that read, “Don’t ask the price, it’s a pen­ny,” the bu­si­ness be­gan to flou­rish af­ter Marks for­med a part­ner­ship with a one­time ca­shier, Tho­mas Spen­cer. La­ter, un­der Marks’ son, Si­mon, and Si­mon’s part­ner, Is­rael Sieff, the fa­mi­ly bu­si­ness boo­med, se­cu­ring a unique foo­thold in Bri­tish so­cie­ty.

7. Sal­ly Mor­ri­son, head of mar­ke­ting for Light­box Je­wel­ry, has li­ved in the Uni­ted States for more than 30 years. But she re­turns to Lon­don about se­ven or eight times a year — and eve­ry time she does, she makes a pil­gri­mage to Marks & Spen­cer for its un­der­wear and spi­cy ket­chup. She re­mem­bers going to the store with her mo­ther in her ho­me­town, Al­der­shot, about 30 miles sou­th­west of Lon­don, at the age of 8. That store clo­sed last year. “Going in­to M & S is part of the ri­tual of co­ming home for me be­cause it has been of­fe­ring me the same staples all my life,” Mor­ri­son said.

8. Al­lo­wing as­pi­ra­tio­nal shop­pers in class-ob­ses­sed Bri­tain to keep up ap­pea­rances of up­ward so­cial mo­bi­li­ty gave the chain se­rious com­mer­cial and cultu­ral clout. It made pre­vious­ly exo­tic items like fresh fruit and cash­mere swea­ters avai­lable to the masses. The aisles gave shop­pers their first taste of de­li­ca­cies beyond Bri­tish bor­ders, from tin­ned man­da­rins in the 1930s to avo­ca­dos in the 1960s and chi­cken Kiev in the 1970s.

DEMOCRATIZING SHOP­PING

9. “It brought qua­li­ty, va­lue and in­no­va­tion at ve­ry com­pe­ti­tive prices to Brits of all class back­grounds, ear­ning it un­pa­ral­le­led trust and af­fec­tion, a ve­ry po­wer­ful thing,” said Stuart Rose, chief exe­cu­tive of Marks & Spen­cer from 2004 to 2010. “De­li­ve­ring what the cus­to­mer ex­pec­ted and ne­ver let­ting them down was what al­lo­wed M & S to pro­duce unin­ter­rup­ted pro­fit in­creases from 1884 to 1999.” “Marks & Spen­cer de­mo­cra­ti­zed shop­ping on a na­tio­nal scale for consu­mers,” he ad­ded.

10. For de­cades a fa­mi­ly-run com­pa­ny, Marks & Spen­cer was al­so pio­neer in cor­po­rate res­pon­si­bi­li­ty and be­ne­fits. Long be­fore the na­tio­nal health care sys­tem, the com­pa­ny, in the 1920s and ‘30s, of­fe­red ge­ne­rous me­di­cal be­ne­fits and free break­fasts for those who star­ted a shift at 7 a.m. Des­pite Bri­tain’s sen­ti­men­tal at­tach­ment, the chain’s all-in-one mo­del, hea­vi­ly weigh­ted to a mot­ley ar­ray of brick-and-mor­tar stores on High Streets, has not held up well in the era of e-com­merce.

11. In Stock­ton, the de­par­ture of M & S has dealt a hea­vy blow to those who de­pen­ded on its pre­sence in the town cen­ter for more than 100 years. “M & S has been an im­por­tant part of this com­mu­ni­ty for a long time,” Har­land, the 84-year-old cus­to­mer, said. “We’ve seen a lot of shops shut over the years, though there has been some in­vest­ment in­to the town, too. Still, M & S was ne­ver one I thought we would see go.”

(Ben Quin­ton/The New York Times)

Out­side a Marks & Spen­cer store in Stock­ton, June 2018.

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