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Marketeer of the month

By The Drum, Administrator

July 29, 2004 | 6 min read

Marks and Spencers has been, for the past 100 years, a by-word for sturdy, good-quality produce. But the store and its brand have taken a battering in recent years and have become the subjects of intense media scrutiny over the past few months, most recently with the failed take-over attempt by flamboyant entrepreneur Philip Green.

However, all did not go according to plan for Green, who has worked his Midas touch on so many other businesses – for example, the Arcadia Group, which includes high-street shops BHS, Burtons, Dorothy Perkins and Top Shop – in the past.

Instead, the man who famously spent £5 million on a three-day Toga party in Cyprus to celebrate his fiftieth birthday party two years ago (a drop in the ocean when considering his £3.6 billion fortune) has slunk off to Sardinia for a six-week break, no doubt licking his wounds and biding his time before coming back fighting fit.

So why did M&S decide to give his huge bid the old heave-ho? Could it be that the City simply turned against this self-made man, who has shunned investors for a number of years? That the notion of being able to buy anything that takes his fancy simply failed this time? And what does this mean for the fading retail giant? Will this be as good as it gets for them or can the St Michael’s brand weather the storm and fight back on the high street?

\"I don’t think that everything that has happened over the past month will have any negative effect on Philip Green or his brand. The man is a retailing genius,\" states Managing Director of Brazen PR, Nina Wheeler. She continues: \"He is a professional who is well respected in the City, by shareholders, by creatives and I suppose by the average man in the street. M& S, however, is a brand that is now run by number crunchers and that is something that has affected them deeply.

\"But you have to remember that what is happening to the Marks and Spencers brand is more to do with business analysts. I don’t know if the average shopper would be all that bothered with the goings-on that are happening with shareholders and the chief executive.\"

Graham Sass, Managing Director of Sass, whose clients include brands Intersport and David Beckham Soccer, believes that the day of M&S being regarded as a high street monolith is now firmly in the past. He comments: \"The problem with M& S is that other people do M& S better than they do. Years ago they totally dominated Middle England but these days you can get similar products from other retailers. Missing the opportunity to work with Green will be a great loss to them – with his retail track record it’s clear that he would have added a real impetus to the business.

\"BHS won’t be damaged at all by this. If anything, it’ll grow even stronger. It will be interesting to watch how it develops as Green puts all his efforts back into BHS, and takes on M&S.\"

But does that mean that Green’s threat, that he will bounce back making BHS a stronger force on the high street, actually holds any weight? Wheeler, who has worked with a variety of high-street retail brands, including Iceland, Phones4u and Joe Bloggs, is unsure. \"The problem that BHS has is that there is no consistency when it comes to its stores. For example, the one in the centre of Manchester is an absolute dump, whereas the one in the Trafford Centre is a beautiful flagship store. With M&S you know what you are getting when you walk into that store, no matter where you are in the country. And, I think, until Green manages to solve the problem, M&S will always have the upper hand.\"

\"Within the retail sector Phillip Green should and always will be highly respected as one of the most successful individuals in retail,\" comments Gordon Bethell, Director at Gratterpalm, whose clients include Asda and Delpak. He continues: \"However, the City and the broader business community will have clearly been disappointed with two elements of the M&S bid – that of the personal motivation against Stuart Rose and the surrounding mystery of foul play in share movements behind the scenes. Green’s message was clear though – a business cannot survive without changing in line with its customers and its environment and if anyone could have turned it around Green would have delivered. As a businessman I would have backed Green and got a return quicker than most – as a shopper I’d have backed Rose.

Alex Johnston, Head of Advertising at the Poulter Group, adds: \"He is definitely an individual and you have got to admire the fact that he does not shy away from challenging opportunities. He understands the rag trade and that stands him in a good position in the type of businesses he invests in.

\"There was a lot of media hype over the past few months between him and Stuart Rose, and I think that’s all it really was, media hype. Stuart Rose is a very good businessman. He sorted out the businesses that the Arcadia group bought.

\"But I think that Phillip Green wants to be famous for pulling off the deal, rather than the deal itself, and that can be a bit of a problem when you are trying to convince shareholders and the city that you are serious about such a traditional institution.\"

No doubt Green will bounce back from this. However, the question does remain. If not Green, then who now will come to the rescue of M&S and take it back to the glory days of old? Only time, it seems, will tell.

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