Marks & Spencer chief operating officer Stuart Machin explains why its new shops in former Debenhams department stores are crucial to M&S’ future.

Building a store estate that is fit for the future is central to our far-reaching transformation programme. 

We want the right stores, in the right locations, set up to serve today’s customer brilliantly. 

To achieve this, we need to rotate our store estate; investing and renewing in our target markets, underpinned by an asset management programme that looks to repurpose or redevelop our existing space. 

In May, we set out a clear plan to accelerate this rotation and use the current market opportunity to go faster in securing strong sites for relocation. 

Now, we’re seeing that strategy in action, as we fully open the doors of our new store in Leamington Spa – the first of five fantastic former Debenhams sites we have acquired, with others located in Birmingham Bullring, Leeds White Rose, Stevenage and Llandudno. 

Beating expectations

The new 12,000 sqft food hall in the Leamington store opened in August and has been helping to deliver increased range and ease of shopping to support our plans to attract more families and grow our basket size. 

It is our 28th renewal format store and delivers a bigger, better, fresher shopping experience with features ranging from a superb in-store bakery, a doubled in size frozen offer to a fun pick-your-own eggs display. 

Following on our first new-look M&S Café at Sears Solihull, Leamington Spa has opened its new 130 seat café with self-service digital ordering screens and at-seat app service. 

“We are determined we will have the right stores in growing markets and build a more personalised, seamless experience for our customers”

The store now includes an updated clothing and home space to better showcase our latest ranges and is supported by our new digital click and collect proposition to make it even easier and quicker for customers to shop the full M&S offer. 

This new fit-for-purpose site at Leamington Shopping Park, which also boasts extensive parking facilities, has replaced our outdated Warwick food hall and Leamington Spa clothing and home-only satellite store. 

In the first nine weeks, the food hall has traded ahead of our expectations and we are looking forward to seeing already high levels of footfall continue to grow. 

Difficult decisions

It is of course early days at Leamington and this is just one example of how we’re driving forward our transformation. 

Recently, we shared details of the action we’ve taken in Paisley, Scotland, to replace our existing freehold clothing and home high street store with a renewed food hall – where revenue per foot has already exceeded our expectations by over 20% in the first 15 weeks. 

To deliver a fit-for-the-future estate, we have to make difficult but necessary decisions. 

We have proposed closures of older stores in Maidstone, Bristol and Poole. In each of these markets, we believe we are already well set up to serve customers thanks to our ongoing investment, whether that is at the Maidstone Eclipse store, which opened less than two years ago, or through Cribbs Causeway in Bristol – one of our five stores where we are trialling the latest digital innovations to radically improve customer experience. 

We believe in stores and believe they can be a true source of competitive advantage. 

Through our transformation we are determined we will have the right stores in growing markets and, at the same time, build a more personalised, seamless experience for our customers, wherever they want to shop with us. 

This piece was originally published as a blog on M&S’s website.