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Editorial: UK Clothing Retailer Marks & Spencer Turns the Corner
published in Issue 126, November-December 2006
Marks & Spencer (M&S), one of the UK’s leading clothing retailers, has successfully emerged from a long-term slump to regain its status as one of the most trusted and highly respected companies in UK retailing.
The fall in market share which accompanied the slump appears to have been arrested and even reversed. However, M&S still has a long way to go to restore levels enjoyed ten years ago. In 1997, before its troubles began, its share of the UK clothing market was 13.4%. But in 1998 it dipped to 13.0%, in 1999 to 11.4% and in 2000 to 10.5%. Over the past few years, it has fluctuated in the 10-11% range. Had the company maintained its market share, its profits would have been almost 30% higher than they are today, other things being equal.
The company—which was founded in 1894 by Michael Marks, an immigrant pedlar, and Tom Spencer, a cashier—earned a strong reputation for “quality, value and service”. This enabled it to greatly expand its operations over many decades, and profits followed suit.
Flush with cash, M&S embarked tentatively on international expansion in the 1970s—and then with more vigour in the 1980s and 1990s when it made a major push into Continental Europe and Asia. By the late 1990s it had established stores in a number of countries, including France, Spain, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand.
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