When Kate Bostock took to the stage at Marks & Spencer’s investor day cum beauty parade for a new chief executive, she seemed very nervous. However, tough challenges are nothing new to Bostock.

When Kate Bostock took to the stage at Marks & Spencer’s investor day cum beauty parade for a new chief executive, she seemed very nervous.

It was a tough day and a very tough crowd and she stumbled on her words as she opened her presentation.

However, tough challenges are nothing new to Bostock. She has one of the hardest jobs in fashion, appealing to what is probably the broadest customer base of any retailer in the fashion space.

She has also had to battle with the onslaught of the value players and the ever more demanding customer expecting more for their hard earned buck. The middle market is being hit from all sides with the recession-worn consumer trading up or trading down, leaving an uncertain void in between. They seem to be buying more expensive pieces that last or cheaper basics.

Bostock understands how the recession has affected the sector and even if she lacks the stage presence of Sir Stuart Rose there are few who understand their customers as well as Bostock. The down-to-earth Northerner understands her market implicitly. She is also very well regarded in the industry for the work she has done at M&S and she used her stage time to highlight several key focusses she now has for the M&S non-food offer.

Bostock said in her presentation that her younger customer and her 45+ customers were both becoming increasingly important.

She believes the biggest shift in the next few years will be people reaching the 45+ category. With people living longer and still wanting to dress fashionably she is confident that M&S is best placed to tackle this market and keep improving on its offer.

Bostock is also aiming to get the younger customer through the door- the customer who as she says will become “core” and buy more fashion for herself, her children and spend in homewares moving forward.

M&S’ Indigo brand was one target for a slightly younger customer, while Portfolio offers the 45+ shopper more classic styles. It is through these differentiated brands that Bostock has been trying to widen the M&S appeal, and they now account for over half of M&S’ fashion sales.

The main problem, however, is how the ranges are presented in many of the stores. The message is unclear, and although Per Una is merchandised to show off its unique offer, the other brands are often lost in stores and may be missed particularly by a newer M&S customer or one shopping in an unfamiliar store.

Presentation is an issue. Bostock said she would be tackling with better segmentation of the brands, which is needed both in menswear and womenswear. It really needs to push its strengths and she is hopeful that along with its store presentation, improvements to its multi-channel offer and better availability it will keep giving customers a reason to spend.

These seem to be the right issues to tackle along with upping its game in the ever more competitive lingerie market.

If Bostock can deliver on her word and keep injecting differentiation and newness into the M&S product there is no reason that she cannot grow sales and increase her customer base. 

So Bostock to replace Sir Stuart? Perhaps not, but then I think there are few who could confidently and capably replace Bostock.