Monday, March 30, 2009
Marks sans Sparks
Marks & Spencer, or Marks & Sparks as it is affectionately known, closed down last month. Since it only opened in April 2007, I'd have to say that was a spectacular failure. I love M&S - if it ever went into liquidation, my life would be over! I can go to the branch in Marble Arch, London, and stock up on almost everything I need for the rest of the year. The clothes are made to fit real people of all sizes and heights and they have ranges to suit everyone from newborns to elderly. The quality of the food is legendary (although usually griped about by those who have no idea what supermarkets in other parts of the world are like!) and although it has good years and bad years, it has managed to maintain it's standards and provide good value for money.
I moved to Dubai in December '95, and by April I was so desperate for summer clothes, ( it was short notice and I couldn't find anything in the winter ranges that were then on sale!) I made an emergency trip to London to stock up. Fortunately for me they opened a branch the following year, and by the time I moved to Kuwait, they were already there. So why did it take so long to open a branch here? Prior to the opening of the Dubai branch, ex-pats stocking up on their clothes were advised to cut off the labels before coming back through customs as the goods would be confiscated. Marks, of the original founders, Marks & Spencer was Jewish. Even so, it took longer for a British name to break into French speaking Geneva! And now it's gone.
Whether it was deliberate or unbelievably bad management, I can't say, but I could see the writing on the wall right from the start. I'm a size 10-12, a combination of fairly standard sizes. I noticed that if you saw something you liked in there, you had to buy it there and then because the size would be gone by the next day and they didn't re-stock. What was on the floor was what they had, no stock rooms to check if your size wasn't available. So I noticed that they would have around two to four size 10's and 12's and a whole caboodle of sizes 18-22's! Week after week, I'd go in to see the same old stock in these huge sizes and no-one was buying them. Not even the 14's!
Why? Because the Genovoise are not overweight! Who were these clothes aimed at? And that wasn't the only problem. To compound it, this tiny branch (it only occupied a small space of this large building on a prime location on the Rue du Marché) brought over the most dull and boring ranges. These ranges are M&S's bread and butter in the UK. Great for the elderly and those that want something inoffensive (in fact, it even worked for the Kuwaiti women, where the long sleeves and bottons to the neck were de rigeur for those wearing more western styles) but very definitely not for Geneva where money is not an issue - here even the elderly look well dressed and groomed.
However, while these less exiting ranges (M&S calls them 'classics'!) sell like hot cakes in the UK, there simply isn't a need for them here. They could have brought over the more classy Autograph range, or their quirky Per Una range. They could have brought in more stylish men's suits (rows and rows of light coloured, standard fit jeans and dull jumpers!) and emphasised the choice of sizes. It's impossible here to find anything shorter than a 32" inside leg in jeans or suits! Anything M&S had, it could have been bought from any cheap clothing store here. It needed to show off why it was so special and it certainly shouldn't have brought over all that over sized stock! Come to think of it, they could have sold only food and really taken Geneva by storm! If they can export food to Kuwait, there's no reason why they can't bring it to Geneva, one and a half hours flight away- except that the market is obviously strangled by the two giant (and spectacularly dull!) Swiss supermarkets Migros and Co-op.
No doubt, it will have a whole container full of size 22's going back to Head Office. But why, I wonder did no-one look at those rails of unwanted stock and put (or rather see!) the two and two together and work it out? I bit my tongue every time I went in there. Maybe I should have said all this when I had the chance!