M&S buys 51% of eastern European partner

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Marks and Spencer has bought a 51 per cent stake in its eastern European franchise partner for £10.6m as it cranks up the number of stores in the region.

The privately-owned COMS operates 13 M&S stores across the Czech republic, Slovakia, Latvia and Lithuania, but M&S wants to open an extra 30 stores in these markets and also in Estonia in the next few years.

The move is in line with the retailer's stated aims to invest in its existing franchise partners where it believes it will speed up the pace of growth and give greater operating efficiency. The company hopes to generate up to 20 per cent of group sales from overseas within five years.

COMS has been a franchise partner of M&S since 1996 and has exclusive rights to operate its stores in the region.

Carl Leaver, director of international business at M&S, said: "There is a great opportunity to open many more Marks & Spencer stores across central and eastern Europe and grow a real presence in the region.

"The Marks & Spencer brand is already well recognised in the Czech republic and there is increasing demand for good quality, great value products in markets like Slovakia."

The new stores will sell fashion products, cosmetics and a small range of food.

The deal comes three weeks after M&S spent €50m (38.9m) on a 50 per cent stake in Marinopoulos, its franchise partner in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Switzerland. It plans to open 50 stores in those markets.