Holmes looks for more time to restart recovery at M&S

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The Independent Online

Roger Holmes, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, yesterday sought a two-year extension to turn around the struggling retailer as he admitted the so-called recovery had "faltered".

Roger Holmes, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, yesterday sought a two-year extension to turn around the struggling retailer as he admitted the so-called recovery had "faltered".

The group, which is searching for a chairman to replace Luc Vandevelde, saw its share of the clothing market fall last year for the first time since it ran into difficulties in 1999 on the back of poor womenswear collections. Mr Holmes said the group had "just as much to do" to revive sales as Mr Vandevelde had to do when he joined in 2000.

Deriding the group's attempts to grow market share as "not sufficient", Mr Holmes unveiled measures intended to kick-start its recovery. These span lowering its prices by 3 per cent; cutting its number of suppliers and sourcing more clothes directly; launching new womenswear brands; and overhauling its estate.

He said the group had "clear milestones over two years to drive sales" but admitted it was "possible" its market share would slip further during the next six months. "Our first objective is to make sure we get clothing sales back into positive territory," he said. The group's underlying clothing sales fell by 2.5 per cent during the final quarter of its year.

Analysts were unimpressed, with one describing the group's initiatives as "Groundhog Day". He added: "Until it appoints a new chairman or Kate Bostock [its new head of womenswear] joins, it is stuck in limbo."

M&S also admitted that its much-hyped assault on the home furnishings market was failing to impress customers, with sales at its new Lifestore in Gateshead running "behind targets". There was further embarrassment yesterday when the group was forced to concede it had not used any M&S furniture to kit out its new head office. Vittorio Radice, the general merchandise director who launched the Lifestore, claimed it was because it "doesn't do office furniture".

Group profits before tax rose 0.5 per cent to £763.2m for the 52 weeks to 3 April on sales up 1.7 per cent to £8.15bn. Its total clothing sales fell by 0.5 per cent last year, contributing to a 0.2 per cent slide in its share of the UK clothing market to 11 per cent.

Analysts said the group's poor sales record would increase pressure on Mr Holmes, with his future riding on how well its autumn collections perform. The group is extending its Limited womenswear collection, rolling it out to 66 stores this autumn in what will be its biggest launch since Per Una, the fashion-focused womenswear brand designed by George Davies.

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