When Steve Rowe arrives at Marks & Spencer’s Paddington Basin headquarters next Monday he will do so for the first time as chief executive.
While incumbent boss Marc Bolland will remain on hand to help ensure a smooth leadership transition, Rowe will formally succeed him as the retailer’s financial year ends over the weekend.
Rowe’s first outing as M&S’s front man will follow just days later, when he updates on fourth-quarter trading on April 7.
The likelihood is that the news next week will be a familiar story.
Food will at least hold its own while general merchandise, notably clothing, is likely to be down.
Broker Stifel, for instance, anticipates general merchandise will decline 4% on a like-for-like basis in the fourth quarter.
While few would expect a strategic update from Rowe next week, the expectation will be at the final results in May he will set out his vision – in broad terms at least.
Clothing has been M&S’s Achilles’ heel for a long time now. In some ways, Primark has usurped its role as the provider of value apparel in volume, whether staples such as socks and pants, or more stylish designs catering for a wide age group.
“Rowe need look no further than John Lewis, which has maintained and extended its strength on clothing by knowing existing shoppers well and knowing how to extend its appeal”
Addressing M&S’s fashion appeal must be top of Rowe’s agenda.
Perhaps he should focus on better catering for its existing customer base as the first priority – after all, the retailer serves 33 million customers through its shops and online.
He can then move on to the question of how M&S can bring in a new generation of shoppers.
Rowe perhaps need look no further than John Lewis, which has maintained and extended its strength on clothing by both knowing existing shoppers well and knowing how to extend its appeal as consumers become part of its potential customer base according to affluence and time of life.
Those shifts certainly bring challenges, but could also represent opportunity.
M&S’s online efforts did not get off to a smooth start but, now that they are better bedded in the multichannel model, enable fresh thinking about the role of stores and how shoppers can be best served across complementary channels.
Stifel envisages some churn of M&S’s estate as older branches are exited in favour of “larger, higher quality stores that better support the brand”.
Such shops offer the chance to make the most of multichannel opportunities and adapt operating models.
As Rowe takes over, a combination of focus on the old, in terms of M&S’s traditional demographic, and the new – the chance to bring on more shoppers through online opportunity and a different approach to stores – could help it fully punch its weight once gain.