Ou sont les chaussettes? M&S heads back across the Channel

The retailer is set to return to the French retail market. Is there a place in Parisians' hearts for sensible underwear?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Marks and Spencer, that stalwart of sensible cardigans and comfortable pants, is set to have another go at cracking Europe’s fashion capital. This Christmas, dads across Paris could be unwrapping M&S ties, according to the company, which said today that it’s planning on making its second go at conquering Europe in the autumn, when it will launch a 15,000 square foot store on the Champs-Elysees. Last time it tried to cross the channel, it was forced to pull out after business conditions at home deteriorated. Could this give M&S a new raison d’etre?

In 2001, the company pulled out of most of its overseas operations – including the US stores, which weren’t going down well stateside. But although it shut down its European branches, too, it wasn’t actually doing badly in France. In fact, when it closed its French branches in 2001, so incensed were customers that they staged protests and sit-ins – the Paris store even had its own book of condolence. Now, though, M&S is back on the Eurotrail: the company says sales targets for its international operations are between £800m and £1bn – twice its current figure of just over £500m.

To reach that sort of goal, the company is going to have to expand, fast. And it’s already eyeing new opportunities: apparently, it’s in talks with cross-Channel partner SPP to launch some Gallic Simply Food stores under franchise. And it’s planning on accompanying its Parisian launch with an international online service. So if your socks let you down, you can now you can get a comfortable pair delivered straight to your door, wherever you are.

That’s not the only shake-up the head honchos at M&S have been planning, though. As part of its annual results, the company said it would also be reviewing its pay strategy to reflect changes new CEO, Marc Bolland, has imposed. Apparently, it’s ‘examining’ whether earnings-per-share, its traditional means of determining long-term incentive schemes for senior staff, is the right one, or whether it should be sales or return on capital instead. That news will be tres bien to the corporate governance brigade, who have had a shaky relationship with senior management since former CEO Stuart Rose combined the chief exec and chairman roles. One shareholder told the FT: ‘it’s a new breed. They are going to listen more’.  

Formidable. Now, what’s the French for ‘the elastic’s gone in my underpants’?

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