Marks and Spencer has become an emblem of the decline and fall of the British high street. It fits the well-worn narrative almost too perfectly, the once-mighty hero, vainly limping along the slow road to obsolescence, its P&L as grim as its flowery frocks.
Pre-tax profits this year were less than 5% of what they were a decade ago in real terms, at £66.8m. The bottom line wasn’t helped by the heady costs of CEO Steve Rowe’s ‘transformation’ programme, which involves closing a third of the M&S’s 300 clothing stores over the next four years.
That’s bad, but it’s lazy to assume that defeat is inevitable. M&S’s story isn’t over yet and, indeed, Rowe’s transformation may yet turn out to be a bold retreat, rather than a desperate rout.