Private Investor: Rose is looking in the wrong place for M&S customers

I had hoped to avoid writing about
Marks & Spencer for the umpteenth week running, but the withdrawal on Thursday of Philip Green's informal bid has forced my pen, I'm afraid.

I had hoped to avoid writing about Marks & Spencer for the umpteenth week running, but the withdrawal on Thursday of Philip Green's informal bid has forced my pen, I'm afraid. Actually I confess I had made my mind up to say a few things about this shareholding earlier in the week.

I could not really believe my ears when I heard Stuart Rose on the radio. The chief executive of M&S was talking about how he thought the company had neglected its core clothing customers - women in the 35 to 55 age group - and was going to concentrate the firm's effort to win them back.

Well there's nothing wrong with going after disaffected customers, and M&S long-term complacency was no doubt a factor in losing them in the first place. But I really rather wonder whether this is the right way forwards. I think the future of M&S lies in a service station on the M1 where, last Saturday, I stopped off for refreshment. There I found an M&S food shop bang next to the usual fast-food outlets and the usual service station shops, all serving food from burgers to sandwiches. But where were the tired and hungry motorists and their families heading? To the M&S food mini-store. Even the small queues didn't deter them.

For me it was an almost Pauline moment of conversion. If I was in charge of M&S, of course I would try to do something for the clothing side of the business, but from now on I would concentrate on developing M&S's surprising resilience in food. That's where the potential growth is. Indeed, the more radical side of me dreams of getting up at an M&S AGM and asking the board why they don't just run down the clothing side of the business (or some more polite business-speak expression like "stabilise it for the long term" or "allow it to grow into maturity") and concentrate instead on selling nice food to all sorts of people who value the quality that they can still find at M&S.

According to one website's gossip: "If you look at those attending any AGM, the vast majority are pensioners. That's because they are the ones who have the time to go to AGMs and they look forward to the nosh provided. In fact some don't even go into the meeting. Trust me, I'm one of them." Never mind.

Now I learn that the number of food lines is being cut and the life stores being closed down. I don't know about the life stores (furniture and knick-knacks) but the key to success in food retailing is surely to offer choice. When it comes to fresh fruit our supermarkets stock a depressingly narrow range of each type but there is still a good selection of exotic and wired fruits available. M&S should do both; offering some of the more forgotten varieties beloved of the organic crowd as well as the latest from the depths of the New Guinea rain forest.

Instead of that I am offered a pound a share "cash in hand" as part of Mr Rose's recovery plan. Well, I don't want a quid a share, I want a company that works, will grow and make a decent return on my investment. I don't know if Mr Green would ever have delivered that, although I suspect he hasn't given up his ambition long term, but I don't like the look of the recovery plan. I don't think the shares will collapse, because I can't believe things can get significantly worse, so I don't want to sell now. However there are few hard objective reasons for staying invested.

So, as ever, I'm on the search for value. I can't say I've seen much that appeals, or I haven't been looking hard enough. I do want to examine why Vodafone is sliding slowly backwards, down to 120p or so from almost 150p recently. Intriguing.

s.o'grady@independent.co.uk

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

    Market Risk & Control Manager

    Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

    SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

    £320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

    Head of Audit

    To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam