Marks & Spencer’s clothing sales have been in dire straits for some years now and no amount of celebrity models and uber-fashionable suede skirts seem to have been able to revive them. So the news that John Dixon, the executive director of the general merchandise division (which includes clothes), has finally given up the ghost isn’t exactly surprising.
Dixon, who took charge of general merchandise in October 2012, failed to turn around a division that had suffered 14 straight quarters of falling sales, before rising in the first three months of this year and duly slumping again in the second.
The M&S lifer, who is taking up an as-yet unnamed ‘chief executive’ role elsewhere, had reportedly been hankering after the top job once chief executive Marc Bolland steps down. But whether Dixon was jumped or pushed, both he and the general merchandise business are clearly in need of a new start.
Indeed, the same could be said of M&S overall, which has effectively been living off party food, nostalgia and knickers during Bolland’s uninspiring five-year tenure. The Dutchman’s probable successor is now seen to be Dixon’s replacement Steve Rowe, who has overseen the retailer’s increasingly lucrative food division.
If Rowe can transfer his success with food to clothing then Bolland would have the perfect excuse to bow out relatively gracefully and hand over to his new lieutenant. But what M&S may really need is an outsider to get to grip with its confusing stores and dowdy clothes as it flounders in the face of cheap, fast fashion from the likes of Primark and H&M and the ever-reliable Next.
Investors weren't keen on Bolland's previous succession plan being upended either, with Espirito Santo analyst Tony Shiret saying Rowe was 'unproven'. M&S’ shares were down more than 1% to 540.5p in mid-morning trading, having grown 26% over the last year.