James Moore: Bolland's got good reason to frown after woolly thinking sees M&S mess up badly

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The Independent Online

Outlook Marc Bolland has certainly got into the swing of things as M&S boss. Putting his name into Google images produces numerous pictures of him looking very dapper in a top-of-the-range M&S suit with models draped on his arm.

There's only one thing missing from the recent photos of him with Twiggy and Lisa Snowdon, though: the sort of oily "wow, look at me" smile Sir Stuart Rose always seemed to produce whatever the weather.

Perhaps now we know why. Yesterday's trading statement gave Mr Bolland every reason to frown. M&S missed the City's forecasts because it messed up, and badly. Not in some sideline (like electricals which has been dumped), but in womenswear. The thing that M&S is judged on. The thing it is there for.

The knitwear customers were desperate to get their hands on during a chilly February wasn't available because M&S hadn't bought enough in (note to Mr Bolland, February is often cold in Britain). This meant the retailer flogged 100,000 woolly wonders. It could have sold 300,000.

One might think that someone, somewhere in the organisation might have at least taken a cursory glance at long-term weather forecasts, or, failing that, have noticed a trend was developing. But apparently not. Or if they did, management weren't listening when they piped up with a "hey, that stripey jumper we've got here looks quite cool and we ought to buy a few more because I've noticed a bit of a chill".

Perhaps management was simply too focused on the cost cuts Mr Bolland was highlighting yesterday. It is down to them that M&S will meet profit forecasts despite the fact womenswear sales have been falling for the last six months.

A miss, said Mr Bolland. A temporary buying issue. Honestly. With statements like that you could almost see him as one of those hapless goons on The Apprentice and find themselves up in the boardroom after making some basic business error on the weekly task.

Except that he's not one of those goons. He is the head of one of Britain's biggest retailers.

One mistake is not a reason to throw someone out with the surplus stock that M&S doesn't actually have much of. And, who knows, a shake up in the buying department and a willingness to listen to people with the right instincts could make things look very different very quickly.

But, after a lacklustre Christmas too, Mr Bolland needs to make sure that his M&S doesn't get into the habit of disappointing.