M&S to close clothing and home stores in turnaround plan

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Media caption"We want to make sure we've got an M&S for the future," says boss Steve Rowe

M&S has announced it will close 30 UK clothing and homeware shops and convert dozens more into food stores.

Chief executive Steve Rowe's turnaround plans will also see it open 200 new Simply Food stores as it shifts away from disappointing fashion sales.

He said M&S also planned to close loss-making shops in 10 international markets, including China and France.

The announcements came as M&S reported falling sales and profits in the six months to the end of September.

Mr Rowe said of the UK store closures: "This is about building a sustainable, more profitable business that's relevant for our customers in a digital shopping age."

He would not be drawn on job losses or which stores would close, amid warnings from trade unions that staff would be "extremely concerned" about where the axe will fall.

In total M&S said it would have about 60 fewer clothing and homeware stores in five years' time.

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Media captionM&S store closures: Good or bad strategy?

However, with new food outlets opening, the company will have more stores overall and "more towns will have an M&S", Mr Rowe told the BBC.

He added that customers still "love" M&S, but that it could do better.

The retailer has over 300 full-range sites, which sell clothing, homeware and food, and nearly 600 Simply Food shops in the UK.

'Dunkirk moment'

It also plans to shut 53 international stores, including all 10 in China, half of its stores in France and all its shops in Belgium, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

That represents more than a quarter of the international stores that M&S fully owns, and will cost £150m-£200m. The company said it would start a consultation with 2,100 employees over the proposals.

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Image caption M&S has stores or websites in 58 countries

Among the sites being closed is its department store on the Champs Elysees in Paris - it will be the second time M&S has closed its flagship branch in France. In 2001 M&S closed all its European stores, before returning to France 10 years later under former boss Marc Bolland.

Retail Vision analyst John Ibbotson said: "M&S's humiliating withdrawal from 10 overseas markets is... a Dunkirk moment for [the] iconic British brand."

However, others said that rather than losing face, M&S was closing the stores so as to concentrate forces on turning around the UK business.

"It's not a huge part of M&S's profits. The UK is where they should be making their money, so it's about sorting that out before turning to international expansion," analysts at Liberum said.

M&S did not have the scale, speed or fashion lines of companies like Zara-owner Inditex to succeed in some of these markets, they said.

Sales decline

M&S's half-year results show the problems facing Mr Rowe in the UK, who took over in April.

Clothing sales in existing UK stores fell 5.9%, while its stronger performing food business saw sales drop by 0.9%.

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Image caption Alexa Chung launched an M&S range earlier this year

Pre-tax profit dropped 88% to £25.1m, from £216m in the same period a year ago, partly due to higher pension costs.

The retailer also faces a further squeeze on profits from more expensive imports caused by the fall in the value of the pound.

"Our intention is that we won't have to pass those price rises onto the consumer in the New Year," Mr Rowe told the BBC.

'Medium radical'

Investors were unsure about M&S's results and store closure plans, with shares initially rising before falling quite sharply.

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: "Cost-cutting will help to support earnings forecasts but this will only take M&S so far. To truly revive profits the company must get clothing and home right, and it is currently hard to argue that M&S has really found its fashion handwriting."

Liberum analysts said they had "wanted to see radical action from M&S", but that they saw Mr Rowe's plans as "medium radical".

Matthew Hopkinson, a director at the Local Data Company, said that although M&S was closing a relatively small number of stores, it would have "a big impact for the towns where they have been the High Street anchor for many years".

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