M&S looks to revamp for return to profitability

High Street chain attempts to rediscover its spark by getting rid of its dowdy image
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The Independent Online

It's Marks & Spencer, Jim, but not as we know it. Gone are the dimly lit corners filled with crimpolene trousers and elasticated waists and in their place are angular, chrome mannequins wearing leather coats and spike-heeled shoes.

It's Marks & Spencer, Jim, but not as we know it. Gone are the dimly lit corners filled with crimpolene trousers and elasticated waists and in their place are angular, chrome mannequins wearing leather coats and spike-heeled shoes.

This is Marks & Spencer's "new concept", as unveiled in Kensington High Street yesterday, and coming to a town near you by the end of the year.

As customers walk into the new store in west London the first impression is of bright lights and space. This is "about driving a catwalk to the end of the floor and making an avenue for customers to walk down", said Rosemary Calthorpe, who has worked with customer focus groups and designers to help with the revamp.

"There are different lifestyle zones which might attract different ages, from contemporary through to casual and designer. We have tried to create more excitement and dynamism." The sections are divided by slabs of opaque green glass, while message boards exhorting customers to "feel the passion", be "liberated", "sussed" and "sharp" are dotted all around the store.

In the food section the company has dispensed with complicated signs like "horti- culture" and "fruit" and replaced them with "flowers, apples, grapes and peaches". One aisle even distinguishes between "biscuits" and "shortbread biscuits".

The new store also includes a beauty shop with assistants trained to give makeovers, a coffee shop and a personal shopping service. The changing rooms have different lights for day and night effect and the lingerie department has comfy chairs where women can discuss their needs with an advisor. Customers will also be able to discuss loans, pensions and life assurance with advisors from the new financial services scheme.

Kensington is the first London store to be revamped but two others in Leicester and Sutton, Surrey, have already opened. Marks & Spencer said customers were "thrilled" with the new look.

The company, which has been labouring under bad publicity about dingy stores anddowdy clothes, has redesigned the stores in an attempt to turn itself back into the darling of the high street.

Two weeks ago, it reported disappointing trading figures at its annual shareholders meeting. Luc Vandevelde, the new chairman, faced an hour and a half of hostile questioning from disgruntled investors while shareholders grilled the board on everything from directors' pay to the difficulty in finding men's trousers with a button-up back pocket.

By this autumn, the company will have spent £60m redesigning a further 21 stores around the country.

The "new" store may finally look like something to rival the other stores on Kensington High Street but, in the end, success will depend on whether customers like the clothes on the rails. It remains to be seen whether trusty Marks & Sparks will ever return to the £1bn profits it was pulling in just two years ago.

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