The rise and fall of Marks & Spencer (1955 – 2001)

Read part I of my history of M&S here.

Marks & Spencer employed 28,403 people in 1955.

M&S was the fifth most highly valued stock in Britain in 1963, at £435 million. This value had risen to £615 million by 1970. M&S overtook Woolworth as Britain’s leading retailer in terms of both sales and profits in 1968.

M&S employed 37,094 people in 1972, placing it just outside the top 50 employers in Britain. The company enjoyed a turnover of £360 million and employed capital worth £160 million in 1973.

M&S began to sell frozen food from 1972. Convenience food was being sold at 100 stores by 1973.

M&S began to look overseas for growth from the early 1970s. The company acquired a 50 percent stake in three Canadian clothing retailers in 1973. A controlling interest was acquired three years later.

A store was opened in Paris in 1975. This store ranked among the company’s top ten worldwide in terms of sales and profitability by the mid-1990s.

1982 sales were just under £2.2 billion. M&S, with a market capitalization of $3.7 billion, was the fifth highest valued public company in Europe by 1982.

The first non-family member was appointed as chairman and chief executive in 1984.

The first location outside a town centre was opened in Gateshead in 1986.

The company made two American acquisitions, Brooks Brothers, the clothing retailer, and Kings Supermarkets in 1988. Brooks Brothers cost M&S $750 million, and included 47 stores.

M&S operated 275 stores in Canada and eight stores in France by 1990. That year the company opened its first store in Spain.

M&S employed 55,750 people by 1992. It was the twentieth largest company employer in Britain.

M&S was the only retailer in the world with a AAA credit rating in 1994. The retailer had a reputation for quality and value for money. It boasted a turnover of over £5 billion and 679 stores.

Profits took a sudden slump in 1999. Excessive profit margins had eroded customer loyalty. The company withdrew from Canada that year.

M&S announced a radical restructuring of its operations in 2001. The UK business was revamped and its US retail operations and company owned stores in Europe were divested. Brooks Brothers was sold for $225 million, less than a third of what M&S paid for it thirteen years previously.

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