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It is on the borders that the first signs usually appear of an empire starting to collapse. Thus Nero’s fiddling and pyromanics were the forerunners of Goths,Visigoths and other alien tribes hacking away at the denuded borders of the once great Roman empire. The same applies to giant supermarkets. Once head office has lost the plot it shows on the peripheries of the business, which brings us to Marks & Spencer.
M&S has had an on and off presence in Greece for more than 20 years, sometimes with a food department, sometimes without. It was once one of the few establishments where ex pats could buy a taste of home. But what was its main product on display. Shelf after shelf of bottled water. Greece is awash with numerous brands of bottled water and here is M&S bringing it all the way from England to take up valuable shelf space, on which items with a far greater profit could be displayed. Not surprisingly M&S suddenly closed its food departments, virtually overnight.
On the basis of once bitten it wont hurt as much the second time, they eventually decided to reopen food sections and to do so in time for Xmas. The fitting out took place, the shelves were stocked and the areas were roped off pending the big opening day. They remained roped off, potential customers came in droves believing that they must have opened but they hadn’t and didn’t. Eventually it was admitted that they had forgotten to apply for any of the licences required for a food shop. The ropes remained, the stock and the shelving and the displays were removed and the fish and chips, steak pies and cumberland sausage were quickly replaced with fancy ladies underwear. The expats were the same but with a slightly different leer.
Now they have done it again, for a third time, about two years ago or so. One of the new foodstores was a closed down former BHS store, which should have been warning enough to the ivory towers of head office. New freezer cabinets were installed, all very posh with bow fronts, but there was one big difficulty. The only place to display price labels was underneath the bow fronts, facing the floor, instead of the customer. If you wanted to know the price of anything in the stores main freezer display you had either to bend down and peer up at the bottom of the bow front or for comfort, actually kneel down on the floor which would bring your head to just about the right height for reading the label.
A small thing you may say but it is not. It is a sign of a company with a big problem because M&S would have paid out a fortune in consultants and designers fees to create a useless freezer display. What is more, the management of M&S were so divorced from reality and their customers needs, that the displays are still being used. Presumably management could not be bothered to check the store after or before it opened. After all you cant expect a head office man to go down on his hands and knees. That sort of thing is for customers only.
At the same store the staffing arrangements are that one man covers the little coffee bar next to the check out counter and makes the coffees and in between doing that, when he has time, he operates the till and serves the customers. The rest of the staff are engaged to talk to each other and supervise the stock on the shelves. Occasionally they put these onerous duties on one side and start operating a check out The store is not busy. Presumably M&S will be wondering why. The customers know why.
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