Look to the future Marc, it's only just begun...

After six months in charge of Marks & Spencer, it is time for Marc Bolland to reveal his strategy. James Thompson reports
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The Independent Online

Marc Bolland, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, has had six months to get his feet under the table in the high-street giant's swanky office in Paddington, London.

During this time, he has been busy meeting M&S's suppliers, investors and staff, as well as visiting stores in the UK and overseas and hiring a new chairman and finance director. But so far the Dutchman has said very little about his plans for the retailer, which has 1,038 stores in 42 territories.

That will all change on Tuesday, when Mr Bolland, the former chief executive of the grocer Morrisons, reveals his first thoughts on his strategic vision for the retail institution, alongside its half-year results.

Overall, he is likely to stick to the mantra of "evolution not revolution" and insist that M&S is a strong business and the model is anything but broken. M&S has delivered positive UK underlying sales for the last four quarters and is on track for pre-tax profits of £715m this financial year, although this is down on the £1bn delivered in 2007/08.

Nick Bubb, an analyst at Arden Partners, says: "He is lucky that he has inherited a business that has more momentum, particularly in food – they have turned that around. And in clothing the team has done well." Mr Bolland is likely to signal that the big opportunities lie in three areas: the retailer's brands, online and international expansion, as well an update on the execution timeframe of its 20:20 programme to improve efficiencies in its supply chain and systems.

For customers, Mr Bolland's vision for brands will be closely followed.

Sir Stuart Rose, the outgoing chairman of M&S who joined in 2004, initially said that M&S had too many brands. While sub-brands such as SP, Just Perfect and Formula were axed, a number of new brands, such as Portfolio, which is primarily targeted at 45-year-old-plus women, have been introduced, leading to accusations about "brand creep". Some rationalisation of brands is expected to be unveiled.

Mr Bubb says: "I would be surprised if he doesn't cull or streamline them or come up with a more coherent range of brands." M&S has six sub-brands in womenswear: Per Una, Portfolio, Indigo, Limited, Autograph and Classic, some of which have spawned sub-sub brands. In menswear, there are five brands, including Blue Harbour. Per Una, which M&S acquired from the designer George Davies for £125m in 2004, is tipped as the only brand certain to be saved from the axe.

Tony Shiret, an analyst at Credit Suisse, expects Mr Bolland to also focus on a clearer segmentation of clothing in stores, guiding customers to where they should shop. "He [Bolland] probably feels their fashion credentials are lost within the presentation they put in their stores. The stores are a hodge-podge of ideas and positioning and it needs clarifying a lot," says Mr Shiret.

In other areas, Mr Bolland is likely to provide an update on M&S's branded food trial of 400 lines from PG Tips to Tomato Ketchup. In 2008, the retailer started selling branded food for the first time, alongside its core own-label range, and until recently the positive mood music from M&S seemed to pave the way for extending the offer. But Mr Bolland played down the importance of the branded trial at last month's results and he may consider scaling it down.

The City is likely to be more interested in his views on its estate of 356 Simply Food shops, of which 195 are run by franchisees. Mr Bubb says M&S has made some "mistakes" in the past with the locations it chose for Simply Food, but expects its future strategy to be focused onout-of-town retail parks, which have car parking.

What is more clear is that Mr Bolland – who could earn up to £14.8m this financial year, although £7.5m of this is compensation for bonuses accrued at Morrisons – will chase international expansion and online revenue growth.

It has emerged that M&S is considering a major U-turn by opening stores in mainland Europe, notably in France and Spain, a decade after pulling out. The high-street chain previously shut its entire network of 38 stores on the Continent in 2001, causing outrage at the time.

But Freddie George, an analyst at Seymour Pierce, says: "I would be surprised if they tried to resurrect the stores they had in the past. But they are likely to go back into some of those markets, such as France. International is likely to be a long-term priority."

Mr Bubb agrees: "The bigger opportunity is going back into France."

Mr Bolland chose not to introduce online grocery in more than three years at Morrisons and it is thought he is likely to be far more bullish about growing clothing and other general merchandise sales than launching food on the internet. However M&S is expected to hit its target of delivering £500m from online sales over Christmas, three months ahead of its deadline.

Elsewhere, Mr Bolland will be quizzed on "stretching" the M&S brand into services, as well as his thoughts on introducing branded product trials, such as a partnership with a cosmetics retailer.

He will also be scrutinised for his mood and level of optimism about the business. However, on strategy the betting is he will make few, if any, grandiose statements on Tuesday about transforming the company. Mr Shiret says: "I think he [Mr Bolland] understands the value of under-promising and over-delivering."

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