Inspirational Business Lessons from Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is an iconic British retailer that offers quality goods and value for money. The retailer’s longevity is both commendable and an inspiration. The company was established in 1884 but its success has not been without challenge.

The unstinted success story of this household retailer came to a halt between 1998 and 1999. The deterioration sent shock waves throughout the market, as retail analysts and shareholders alike were taken by surprise.

The company’s share price plunged and its profit before tax fell from more than a billion pounds in 1997 to a mere £145 million in the year ended 31 March 2001.

Facing immense difficulties, the retailer went on to achieve significant growth, only to meet further gloom as the credit crunch took hold in 2008. Despite the economic downturn that severely impacted the high street, M&S remained resilient and implemented a restructuring plan.

So what can businesses learn from this household name?

Learn From Your Mistakes

For the sake of the long-term future of your business, acknowledge mistakes and seek to rectify them.

M&S closed a store in Boulevard Haussmann, Paris. In predictable French style, the people took to the streets in mass protest at the closure. A new store was launched in 2011 to a huge awaiting crowd at Champs-Elysees. The expansion in France continues.

Perhaps this is a good illustration of the retailer’s 1953 slogan: “The customer is always and completely right!”

Meet Challenges by Implementing Change

All businesses will at some point face difficult times which will lead to dissatisfaction in terms of achieving objectives. However, without dissatisfaction, there is no motivation. Commitment to implement change, despite resistance, is an essential driving force to overcome challenges.

M&S discontinued unprofitable fashion lines, announced its new “Per Una” range and launched an online shopping service in 1999. Hard decisions were taken to close failing stores in 2009 and 2010. The retailer’s determination to pursue change turned the company’s fortunes around.

Seek Opportunities

When facing difficult times, it is very easy to focus on the negatives. However, look outside the box and create innovation.

M&S in recent years has benefited from high-profile advertising campaigns for its clothing range. The participation of Dannii Minogue and Twiggy generated considerable publicity.

In terms of its very popular food products, the “dine in for 2” weekend campaign and its “Simply Food” range have been a great response to the economic downturn as customers spend conservatively.

The stoicism of this great British retailer demonstrates how it is possible to encounter tough challenges in business. However, it is the response to such challenges that dictate success or failure.

Elizabeth Zeisel – Audit Team

Westbury Accountants and Business Advisors is an accountancy practice based in London. Westbury have been providing Accounting and Tax solutions to small and medium sized businesses since 1936. Talk to the team at Westbury on 0207 253 7272 or visit