Archie Norman made his name, not as the boss of ASDA but as the man who saved ASDA, and he was brilliant enough to do so virtually overnight. ASDA had taken the established supermarkets by storm and given them hard lessons in retailing. Then, all of a sudden for no apparent reason, shoppers were deserting it in droves and things got so bad that it had empty shelves as suppliers cut off supplies, fearing that it was going bankrupt, which left to its own devices, it probably would have.
Within 3 months of Archie Norman taking over, ASDA was unrecognisable – fully stocked, “colleagues” whose only wish was to serve, and unheard of in those far off days of the early nineties, a golden rule, that if more than two people were at a checkout, then more check outs had to be opened immediately. Customers loved it, a supermarket which was actually putting them first, with new initiatives galore. Even a singles night for the lonely shopper. Thursday night at ASDA could be quite an experience, as eyes met across the frozen peas and trolleys “accidentally” bumped into each other, ever so gently and with profuse apologies from the blushing owners.
Friday’s sudden, surprise announcement that Archie Norman had agreed to take over as Chairman of M&S, raised more than an eyebrow, it sent the share price roaring ahead by some 5%. Indeed there is more than a slight similarity between the old ASDA and the sorry state which Marks now finds itself in. It is only six weeks ago that it was forced to announce that it was pulling out of mainland China,completely – closing down for good in what is now the worlds largest retail market. This followed on the heels of November’s announcement that it was pulling out of a number of major European countries and closing its flagship store in Paris.
Will Mr. Norman be able to repeat his success at ASDA. If anybody can save Marks, he can but it is now a different ball game entirely. It is not a just a major retailer which is at risk, it is the concept of high street shopping itself which is under threat, as online shopping takes over from that tiresome Saturday afternoon drag round the shopping malls. Will he be able to change the way Marks thinks just as he did with ASDA.
Very often it is the periphery of a large organisation which gives the game away and shows how deeply the rot has set in. One can not be more at the periphery of M&S than Greece and what a disgrace their operation is here. Management seems to be non existent. The late Lord Marks used to be proud of the fact that he could visit any of their UK stores and be instantly recognised by store managers. Store managers in Greece appear to be ashamed at even the thought of being seen on their own shop floor.
My last two visit to an M&S food store in Athens resulted in me leaving my purchases at the check out because there was nobody there to serve me. One assistant was making a special coffee for two customers at the coffee bar and the rest of the staff were tidying the shelves and completely and deliberately ignoring customers. Both check outs were unmanned.
On a previous occasion all the shop floor staff were being spoken to by a lady apparantly from head office, perched precariously on her very high heels and so, so important, that she was only allowed to carry a single sheet of paper in her hand. Again the check outs were unmanned. I asked her if they were closed when she asked me, as I wason my way out, if she could help. I suggested that she could perhaps take herself to a check out and start serving customers. That did not go down at all well but it is even worse in the clothing department.
As a sign of how management has thrown in the towel, one M&S store is across the road from a Lidl, which like all supermarkets in Greece, opens at 8a.m., except for Marks, which steadfastly refuses to open its doors until 9a.m. by which time Lidl will have taken tens of thousands of Euros and Marks will not have taken one. Customers have been seen knocking on the doors and windows of Marks trying to get in but the staff just point at their wrists and indicate they must wait for 9a.m..
Archie Norman is going to have his hands full.