Posts tagged "Belinda Earl"

M&S style boss Belinda Earl unveils first step towards turnaround

Belinda Earl hopes changes will turn around M&S clothes’ frumpy image and bring younger shoppers back to high street giant

A year ago Belinda Earl only ever went to Marks & Spencer to buy food or undies. Having worked for arch-enemy Debenhams for 18 years – before making millions from its sale – Earl says there was little to tempt her on M&S’s clothing rails, with too many unfashionable, poor quality items.

Now, as M&S’s two-day-a-week style director, Earl is kitted out head to toe in M&S’s premium Autograph spring collection and visits stores even on her days off, as she tries to put the retailer back on the fashion map.

It’s a big ask. While rivals such as Next, Primark and the online store Asos are roaring ahead, M&S fashions have lurched from dull to dowdy and sales have been going backwards. The stores have only become a destination shop for the over-50s.

On Tuesday Earl and her team unveiled their first step towards reversing that trend, unveiling autumn collections which could cost or keep Marc Bolland’s job as chief executive. If they sell well he will have bought himself some time, but if they flop he could be out of a job by Christmas. Her answer is a return to the retailer’s historic values. “We are raising the bar in terms of taste, style and quality,” Earl said. “It’s about helping customers of every size, shape and age look their best.”

The 51-year-old plans to use her experience in rebuilding Jaeger, which she led until early last year before stepping down for health reasons, to try to resurrect M&S’s fashion credentials. This week’s autumn collection was relatively well received and helped lift M&S’s share price nearly 4% to 436p – its highest level since Bolland arrived. With that under her belt, Earl is now planning a catwalk event around London fashion week to win over shoppers.

“It’s about being confident about our collections and really demonstrating to customers that we have them in mind,” she says. Earl now says that even when she first arrived there were “hidden gems” such as attractive dresses and well-cut trousers – but they were not given enough backing and got lost in the endless, uninspiring rails of clothing.

Earl says her experience in building up the Designers at Debenhams range will help underpin the creation of much stronger, clearer brands, which is one of the M&S chief executive’s key aims.

Bolland and his director in charge of clothing and homewares, John Dixon – neither of whom have any fashion experience – are relying on Earl to shake-up M&S’s clothing set-up. She first sold fashion as a Saturday girl at Debenhams when she was 16, before heading off to study business and management at university. She then completed a two-year traineeship at Harrods before returning to Debenhams and working her way up to chief executive.

Her two-day-a-week job at M&S “makes me have a very efficient way of working,”, she says. “It focuses my days and brings focus to the business as well.”

It is a tough turnaround job. Underlying sales of M&S’s clothing and homewares have been falling for nearly two years. The brand has been in decline for much longer than that as shoppers have turned to a whole range of cheaper, more fashionable or more luxurious alternatives. By trying to compete with fast growing rivals such as Primark on price, M&S lost the high ground on quality, while its fans have got steadily older and now average 49 . About 60% of the UK’s adult population buys some kind of clothing or homewares in M&S every year, but everyone seems to have their own personal gripe: skirts are too long or too short, there are too many sleeveless tops and dresses, the fabrics are too flimsy, they don’t wash well, the sizings are haywire.

In a bid to respond, Earl says she has been listening to customers, in focus groups, through research questionnaires and in one-on-one meetings with shoppers who have written in. Someone in her team went through every question asked at a M&S annual shareholder meeting over the last several years, to identify recurring complaints.

Earl says that shoppers repeatedly demanded better quality and so, despite tough economic times with people holding on to their pennies, M&S is upping its use of more expensive fabrics such as cashmere and silk.

“We started to look down for inspiration and we should be looking up for aspiration. Our customers are aspiring to premium and luxury brands in the fashion world,” says Earl.

M&S’s cheapest products won’t increase in price, because the retailer has bought in bigger volumes from fewer suppliers – potentially 10% fewer – in order to get better deals on big-selling items such as T-shirts and cashmere sweaters. Basics have already been subtly improved – T-shirts, for example, will now be 2cm longer. More coats and dresses have also been added to the ranges and every store will have a dedicated department for these essentials by the autumn, a big change from now where many small and medium sized shops don’t stock either.

M&S’s in-house brands, including Autograph, Per Una and Indigo, will be given a makeover and Limited Collection has been re-branded as Limited Edition. It will focus on short blasts of “seasonal must-haves” as part of a longer-term bid to win back younger shoppers. Earl says: “Our vision is to target the 30-plus customer. We know she comes into stores, maybe not always for clothing, but we have an opportunity to attract her with really good quality and pieces that are key assets to her wardrobe.”

In truth Earl’s short working week means M&S is relying on strong teamwork between her, Dixon and the womenswear director, Frances Russell, who previously revived M&S’s key lingerie ranges. Dixon, meanwhile, has arrived from the far better performing M&S food business, which he turned around with a combination of product innovation, better promotions and improved efficiency from new technology and distribution systems. He aims to use the same levers to reboot fashion.

“We are working well as a team,” says Earl. But whether they will be successful remains to be seen. As she says “This is a big test.”

Sarah Butler


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Posted by admin - May 17, 2013 at 00:05

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M&S ditches celebs as profits fall

Marks & Spencer has dropped celebrities in its Christmas adverts for the first time in 12 years

Marks & Spencer has dropped celebrities in its Christmas adverts for the first time in 12 years to focus on product-driven marketing, ending a run of festive campaigns that have featured names including, Twiggy, Antonio Banderas, David Beckham, Helen Mirren, Dannii Minogue and, most recently, The X Factor finalists.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said: “I think celebrities could play an important role for some things, but not for everything.” This year’s campaign – which starts on Wednesday night – stars a four-year-old child with Downs syndrome but the focus is on the clothes being modelled.

On Tuesday M&S reported better than expected half-year results, though profits were down for the second year in a row. In line with other retailers, sales fell during the Olympics with Bolland describing London as “a village” because it was so quiet.

The Dutch-born boss, who was under pressure earlier this year after admitting the company failed to buy enough stock on some advertised lines and missed significant fashion trends in womenswear, insisted it was now on track to become a “multichannel”, international business by the end of 2013.

When the disastrous first quarter results were revealed, Kate Bostock, head of general merchandise – fashion and homewares – left the business. Since then a string of senior appointments have been made to womenswear, menswear, lingerie and home and beauty.

Bolland said: “We took steps to address the short-term issues in general merchandising and as a result we delivered an improved performance.”

He appointed a new style director, former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl, and has moved head of food John Dixon to replace Bostock, who has since joined online rival Asos. He said Dixon and Earl had “good chemistry”, adding that Earl, “has a very good feel for the style of what the British woman wants”. Janie Schaffer from US chain Victoria’s Secret has also been hired to head up lingerie, freeing up current lingerie boss Frances Russell to switch to the high-profile womenswear division.

To combat the problems which resulted in top lines selling out under the old regime, leaving shoppers frustrated, Bolland instructed buyers to purchase five times the number of important lines they were advertising, especially knitwear, coats and shoes. The company also backed fashion trends with more confidence. M&S said it had already shifted 44,000 military-style coats.

Bolland added that the Olympics brought more confidence to customers, but not to the bottom line. He said: “It was like a village in London and you could drive around in a couple of minutes because there was hardly anyone there.

” Did we see retail sales increase? No. Did we believe it was important to have done it, leading to that positive mood swing? Absolutely.”

As part of his three-year turnaround plan, which is halfway through, Bolland said he wants to turn the company into a multichannel international brand and plans further expansion overseas.

Bolland said that when he took over the company M&S had a strong brand, but a “complex and inflexible supply chain” with “unclear sub-brands” and stores that were “lacking inspiration”.

To combat the issues, it has launched a next-day delivery service on its website and wants its new iPhone app to be used more than any other fashion retailer’s. Currently, 43% of all online sales are for store collection.

Pre-tax profits fell 10% to £290m in the six months to the end of September, which was ahead of City expectations of £280m. Like-for-like general merchandise sales were down 1.8% in the second quarter compared with the near 7% slump recorded in the previous period. Like-for-like sales at its food division rose 1.6%.

In common with Next boss Lord Wolfson, Bolland said recent trading had been volatile: “This, coupled with continuing pressure on consumers’ disposable incomes, makes us cautious about the outlook for the rest of this year. However, we are well set up for the Christmas trading period.”

By comparison, Primark announced a 15% jump in operating profits to £356m for the year to 15 September. Like-for-like sales climbed 3% with owner Associated British Foods (ABF) flagging strong trading in Britain, particularly over the summer months, and “encouraging” sales of its winter ranges in the new financial year.

Chief executive of ABF, George Weston, said recent expansions in Europe went better than expected and the UK business continues to be strong. He added: “We sold 7.5m items of clothing with the Union Jack between the Olympics and diamond jubilee.”

However, he revealed that, like M&S, sales fell during the Olympics as shopping crowds stayed away from central London. “We put on extra temporary staff but then rather regretted it.”

The company said sales in Spain continue to impress, despite the downturn, with Weston adding that when they recently opened a store in the Alicante region they received 26,000 applications for the 200 jobs on offer.


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Posted by admin - November 6, 2012 at 19:53

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M&S ditches celebs as profits fall

Marks & Spencer has dropped celebrities in its Christmas adverts for the first time in 12 years

Marks & Spencer has dropped celebrities in its Christmas adverts for the first time in 12 years to focus on product-driven marketing, ending a run of festive campaigns that have featured names including, Twiggy, Antonio Banderas, David Beckham, Helen Mirren, Dannii Minogue and, most recently, The X Factor finalists.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said: “I think celebrities could play an important role for some things, but not for everything.” This year’s campaign – which starts on Wednesday night – stars a four-year-old child with Downs syndrome but the focus is on the clothes being modelled.

On Tuesday M&S reported better than expected half-year results, though profits were down for the second year in a row. In line with other retailers, sales fell during the Olympics with Bolland describing London as “a village” because it was so quiet.

The Dutch-born boss, who was under pressure earlier this year after admitting the company failed to buy enough stock on some advertised lines and missed significant fashion trends in womenswear, insisted it was now on track to become a “multichannel”, international business by the end of 2013.

When the disastrous first quarter results were revealed, Kate Bostock, head of general merchandise – fashion and homewares – left the business. Since then a string of senior appointments have been made to womenswear, menswear, lingerie and home and beauty.

Bolland said: “We took steps to address the short-term issues in general merchandising and as a result we delivered an improved performance.”

He appointed a new style director, former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl, and has moved head of food John Dixon to replace Bostock, who has since joined online rival Asos. He said Dixon and Earl had “good chemistry”, adding that Earl, “has a very good feel for the style of what the British woman wants”. Janie Schaffer from US chain Victoria’s Secret has also been hired to head up lingerie, freeing up current lingerie boss Frances Russell to switch to the high-profile womenswear division.

To combat the problems which resulted in top lines selling out under the old regime, leaving shoppers frustrated, Bolland instructed buyers to purchase five times the number of important lines they were advertising, especially knitwear, coats and shoes. The company also backed fashion trends with more confidence. M&S said it had already shifted 44,000 military-style coats.

Bolland added that the Olympics brought more confidence to customers, but not to the bottom line. He said: “It was like a village in London and you could drive around in a couple of minutes because there was hardly anyone there.

” Did we see retail sales increase? No. Did we believe it was important to have done it, leading to that positive mood swing? Absolutely.”

As part of his three-year turnaround plan, which is halfway through, Bolland said he wants to turn the company into a multichannel international brand and plans further expansion overseas.

Bolland said that when he took over the company M&S had a strong brand, but a “complex and inflexible supply chain” with “unclear sub-brands” and stores that were “lacking inspiration”.

To combat the issues, it has launched a next-day delivery service on its website and wants its new iPhone app to be used more than any other fashion retailer’s. Currently, 43% of all online sales are for store collection.

Pre-tax profits fell 10% to £290m in the six months to the end of September, which was ahead of City expectations of £280m. Like-for-like general merchandise sales were down 1.8% in the second quarter compared with the near 7% slump recorded in the previous period. Like-for-like sales at its food division rose 1.6%.

In common with Next boss Lord Wolfson, Bolland said recent trading had been volatile: “This, coupled with continuing pressure on consumers’ disposable incomes, makes us cautious about the outlook for the rest of this year. However, we are well set up for the Christmas trading period.”

By comparison, Primark announced a 15% jump in operating profits to £356m for the year to 15 September. Like-for-like sales climbed 3% with owner Associated British Foods (ABF) flagging strong trading in Britain, particularly over the summer months, and “encouraging” sales of its winter ranges in the new financial year.

Chief executive of ABF, George Weston, said recent expansions in Europe went better than expected and the UK business continues to be strong. He added: “We sold 7.5m items of clothing with the Union Jack between the Olympics and diamond jubilee.”

However, he revealed that, like M&S, sales fell during the Olympics as shopping crowds stayed away from central London. “We put on extra temporary staff but then rather regretted it.”

The company said sales in Spain continue to impress, despite the downturn, with Weston adding that when they recently opened a store in the Alicante region they received 26,000 applications for the 200 jobs on offer.


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Posted by admin -  at 19:53

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M&S brings in House of Fraser’s fashion boss

Stephanie Chen part of new team put together to boost flagging sales in retail clothing and homeware products

Marks & Spencer had its own reshuffle yesterday – dropping its usual celebrity models from its autumn advertising campaign and bringing in the fashion boss from House of Fraser to run its childrenswear and homeware departments.

The new ad campaign features 10 women of different ages and sizes to reflect its wide range of shoppers – most of whom are aged over 40. The retailer’s celebrity faces include Twiggy and Lisa Snowden.

House of Fraser’s Stephanie Chen – who masterminded the relaunch of the Biba brand and oversaw the department store chain’s venture with “the queen of shops” Mary Portas – is part of a new team charged with boosting M&S’s flagging sales. Prior to HoF, Chen worked at Debenhams on the Designers at Debenhams ranges. The current childrenswear boss, Karl Doyle, is to leave the retailer next year “to pursue opportunities outside the company”.

In July M&S unveiled a grim trading update, with general merchandise sales – which covers all sales that are not food – down by a worse-than-expected 6.8% on last year’s levels.

The departure of Kate Bostock, head of general merchandise at M&S, was announced on the same day, along with the arrival, on a part-time basis, of Belinda Earl, formerly chief executive of Jaeger and Debenhams, in a new role of style director. Bostock’s job has been taken by M&S lifer John Dixon, who previously ran the food business.

M&S’s share price has climbed recently on speculation that its poor performance could prompt a takeover bid from private equity investors.


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Posted by admin - September 5, 2012 at 08:30

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Belinda Earl: from Saturday girl to M&S style director

The ‘queen of retail’ brought in to revive store’s fashion ranges can expect plenty of advice – especially from customers

You can’t say she doesn’t have the necessary experience. Belinda Earl, the woman summoned by Marks & Spencer chief executive Marc Bolland to inject a bit of much-needed style into the retailer’s jaded fashion ranges, started her retail career among the clothes hangers as a Debenhams Saturday girl when she was 16, to “fund my clothes habit”.

Twenty-four years later she had climbed the ladder to become the department store’s chief executive – and Britain’s youngest ever boss at a major retailer. She also shook up corporate Britain by becoming the first boss of a major listed company to give birth while in office, and took just six weeks’ maternity leave. “I didn’t want my first child to be my only child because of a job,” she said.

A couple of years later she became a multimillionaire when Debenhams was sold to a private equity consortium in 2003.

Marks & Spencer, the grand-dame of the high street, then came calling, and she was offered plum jobs in advertising and the music industry; but Earl had other plans. The 51-year-old Devonian mother of two was being wooed by Harold Tillman, the retail magnate who had recently bought the historic British Jaeger clothing brand, over a series of high teas at Claridge’s.

Eventually she capitulated and joined Tillman, who described her as the “queen of retail”, taking over as chief executive of Jaeger with a 20% stake in the business. Ill health forced her to quit before the brand was sold on again to venture capitalist Jon Moulton this year.

But now she’s back. This time to rescue M&S’s clothing division, which is facing one of the toughest challenges in its 128-year history. This month M&S reported its worst clothing sales figures in decades and rag trade rumours suggest some of its womenswear lines are dropping by as much as 28%.

Earl will join as style director in September on a two-to-three-day week, and won’t have to look to far for advice on how to stop the rot. Everyone, it seems, has got an opinion on what’s gone wrong at M&S.

The most vocal customers made their views heard, as usual, at the company’s AGM a couple of weeks ago. The hall erupted to spontaneous applause – perhaps louder than that for many concerts normally held in Royal Festival Hall – when Janet Girsman, 50, from Surrey, rose to her feet to implore the board to stock more dresses with sleeves.

Shareholders and customers also complain of “utterly confused” shop layouts, mountains of poor quality clothes “piled up like a bring-and-buy sale”, lack of staff, poor bra-fitting services and the company’s apparent failure to understand its customers and the clothes they want.

It will sound familiar to Earl, who is credited with inventing the successful Designers at Debenhams range and reinventing the Jaeger label. “When Jaeger lost its way, it lost sight of the customer,” she said in 2007. She said the brand, named after Gustav Jäger – a German zoologist and physiologist who advocated the use of natural fibres for clothing – had let itself fall “out of date”. There was, she complained, a “complete lack of focus”.

Her first move was to strip the business back to the basic ideals of Jäger and Lewis Tomalin, who brought the German’s work to England in 1884, opening Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System on Princes Street, near Oxford Circus.

Sandy Verdon, then Earl’s creative director, remembers that she sent the design team straight to the archives. “When the company was sold in the 80s it lost its identity. The brand values were of beautiful fabrics, attention to detail and relevance. What Jaeger was supposed to be about was touch and feel but we were finding lots of polyester,” Verdon said.

Earl, who had never set foot in a Jaeger store before she took the job, spent a lot of time in the stores and meeting customers and suppliers. “I’m not hidden away in some executive suite,” she said.

Her time among the Jaeger rails showed her that while customers (like those at M&S) tended to be well into middle age, that didn’t mean they wanted elasticated waists and sensible woollies. “We’re all a bit younger [in attitude] than previous generations,” she explained. “We all read Grazia.”

Within a couple of years she had brought Jaeger back from the wilderness and its dresses were beginning to be seen on the backs of celebrities such as Pixie Lott and women admired for their fashion sense, such as Samantha Cameron. One star-patterned blouse sold out when Kate Moss, actor Kate Bosworth and newsreader Katie Derham were all pictured wearing it.

Fashion bible Vogue dubbed the brand “the fashionista’s affordable luxury”. Its best-selling lines in each season under Earl were: dresses with sleeves.

Earl, who is married to a lawyer, also chairs baby clothes business AlexandAlexa.com and has a stake in luxury shoes brand Beatrix Ong. She has built up the contacts and firm friendships that matter in fashion.

Sir Stuart Rose, the former chief executive of M&S whom Earl was tipped to replace until the top job went to Dutchman Marc Bolland, describes her as a “very hands-on and diligent … a nice person in what is a bitchy environment”.

Bolland, a former brewery marketing man who received a £1.7m pay package last year, said he was “delighted” someone as “highly experienced” and knowledgeable as Earl was joining the team. Her fashion knowledge will be essential because, following the exit of former clothing supremo Kate Bostock, the fashion and homewares business of M&S will be headed by John Dixon, a 26-year M&S veteran who, as head of the food division, had been in charge of chicken and chiller cabinets rather than cashmere and corduroy.

Tillman describes Earl as “a thorough retailer who understood her product. She’s also a great team motivator and well organised, someone who knows everything from systems to finance and product.”

Her financial knowledge comes from reading business and management at Aberystwyth. She turned down a job at a big accountancy firm to work as junior buyer at Harrods, before she jumped back to Debenhams.

Some analysts worry that while Earl is “more than perfectly capable” of doing the job the “intense politics” inside M&S may prevent her from making the radical changes needed. Neil Saunders, managing director of retail research agency Conlumino, says: “M&S is very cautious. It shies away from radical thinking and there’s a reluctance among buyers to shake things up.”

Saunders says M&S will have to give her power if it really wants change. “Buyers have too much power at M&S, they need to think about what people want and need not how much space they’ve got to fill. There is a culture of buyer knows best, when clearly the buyers don’t know best.”

What women want

Richard Perks, retail director at Mintel, offers a word of advice to Belinda Earl.

“They’ve [M&S] lost their touch, and are out of touch with older women [by far M&S’s biggest customers],” says Perks. “The key is to understand what older women want, but I don’t think M&S is really doing that.

“They need to get back their reputation for quality and value for money, but these days they need to be fashionable as well. They seem to be getting both sides wrong. Their target market wants good quality, value for money clothing.

“People are drifting away, anyone who shops at M&S will shop at other retailers. What really worries me is the new guy [John Dixon, the new fashion and homewares boss] is a food man, not a fashion man. M&S needs real fashion guidance and that’s where Earl will be key to not just womenswear, but everything else, because women who go in to buy womenswear then go on to buy everything else.”


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Posted by admin - July 20, 2012 at 20:53

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M&S shakeup: Kate Bostock out, Belinda Earl in

As the former head of general merchandise moves on, the retailer’s first style director gets ready to step into new shoes

It has been quite a downfall for the former head of general merchandise, Kate Bostock, as she leaves Marks & Spencer after eight years’ service.

Just three years earlier she had been tipped as a possible successor to much-loved boss Sir Stuart Rose. In the end the job went to an outsider, Marc Bolland.

Instead, Bostock was responsible for all non-food sales, which included the largest and most important department, womenswear — the biggest buying job in the UK.

Having been head of Asda’s highly successful George range, she struggled to turn around M&S’s fortunes and womenswear sales began to slip as shoppers went elsewhere.

Before joining Marks and Spencer in 2004, she had been with Asda for three years and was director of childrenswear for Next.

Her strong CV is unlikely to leave her jobless for long, and online retailer Asos is said to be interested.

She will be replaced by current rising star of M&S, John Dixon, who has turned around the fortunes of the company’s food division.

He will be joined by retailing heavyweight, Belinda Earl, who comes in as style director. The former chief executive of Jaeger and Aquascutum, she will start her new job in October, part of a “strengthened team of internal and external best-in-class experts,” according to Bolland.

The new position has been specially created by Bolland and appears to be a response from the board to demands M&S improves its fashion credentials.

Earl started her career as a trainee in Harrods, before moving to Debenhams in 1985 as a merchandiser. Around 15 years later, she had worked her way up through the ranks to become chief executive of the department store business aged just 38, replacing her mentor Terry Green.

She then moved to Harold Tillman’s Jaegar and Aquascutum in 2004, where she stayed until last year, before standing down due to ill health.

During her time there she is credited for its turnaround and subsequent sale by Tillman to Better Capital this year.

Living on a quiet country lane in Surrey with her lawyer husband, David, she hit the headlines in 2001 while at Debenhams when she became the first chief executive of a major company to take maternity leave.

She said at the time how surprised she was by the public interest in her pregnancy, adding, “I’d already had one child and didn’t want my first child to be an only child because of my job.”


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Posted by admin - July 11, 2012 at 08:03

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