It’s not just any sales fall, it’s an M&S sales fall

Kasmira Jefford
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MARKS & SPENCER’s trading update tomorrow is likely to suggest that the high-street stalwart has been particularly weather-beaten in the first quarter of the year.

Not only in the face of the wettest spring on record – which it is expected to blame for a 6.7 per cent decline in non-food sales – but also metaphorically speaking, with an unnerving number of senior staff blown elsewhere by the winds of change.

Some analysts fear changes at the top are beginning to trickle down to its trading performance; after all, a company needs a stable management team to ensure consistent results. But if it’s not the changes in management – chief executive Marc Bolland has in the past argued that staff turnover is normal for a business of M&S’s size – then surely rain can’t be the sole cause of the retailer’s worst quarterly trading in three years?

Finance director Alan Stewart has done an admirable job reining in costs and keeping 2011 profits in line with forecasts. But growing sales is always the best formula for success and it’s here that Marks seems to be struggling with its general merchandise – in particular women’s fashion.

At the company’s full-year results in April Bolland jumped from one initiative to the next – reassuring that work was well underway to modernise stores, grow market share in clothing, revamp its homeware, create a beauty department and become a leading multi-channel retailer while expanding abroad.

The retail sector never stands still and Bolland is clearly not short of ideas. But the key challenge he faces now is to show that two years after joining, he can turn those ideas into consistent positive sales growth.