M&S boss Steve Rowe promises growth as clothing suffers

 
Helen Cahill
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Marks And Spencer Expected To Re-structure Their Core Business
M&S' clothing sales have been in decline for some time (Source: Getty)

Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) chief executive promised investors he would bring clothing sales back to growth today, as another set of figures from the retailer showed its key division was in decline.

Speaking to investors at M&S’ annual general meeting (AGM), Rowe said he would bring like-for-like clothing sales back into positive territory, and that figures were sagging because the firm had been moving away from a vicious cycle of discounting.

Read more: Marks & Spencer clothing arm declines again

In a trading update released ahead of the AGM, M&S revealed its like-for-like clothing and home sales fell 1.2 per cent in the 13 weeks to 1 July.

Rowe was keen to point out that full-priced clothing sales had grown seven per cent however, adding that he had cancelled several clearance sales and was focusing on improving M&S’ product.

Food sales fell 0.1 per cent on a like-for-like basis, and total sales were down 0.5 per cent.

Rowe became chief executive of M&S last year, and today, outgoing chairman Robert Swannell said Rowe’s plans for the business were starting to take effect.

The retailer started on a path of major restructuring last year, which involved shutting several stores and changing its employees’ pay and pension packages.

Read more: High street retailers' shares suffer after Debenhams' gloomy UK outlook

Both moves were controversial, but Swannell told investors today that they were the right thing to do for the future of the business. He admitted there had been “execution glitches along the way”, however.

Shareholders repeatedly complained to Swannell about the drop in M&S’ share price. By the close today, the retailer’s shares were down 4.69 per cent at 323p.

He said that the board was not concerned with day-to-day fluctuations in the share price, and was instead looking at providing long-term value for shareholders.

However, one shareholder challenged Swannell, saying: “Long-term, long-term, long-term. When will long-term come?”

Another shareholder implied that, as Swannell was leaving M&S, he had no personal investment in the company and would be working for someone else soon.

“I will not be looking for another alternative,” he said. “Ask my wife, she’s in the front row.”

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