Could the Chairman comment on the article in the Financial Times recently?
I cannot comment on the article specifically but I can confirm we have delivered sales in line with expectations. The General Merchandise business is improving despite difficult trading conditions; and product improvements will appear in the Autumn/Winter collections. The Food business delivered a strong performance, with sales up 4.5%. Similarly, sales through M&S.com are up 29.9%, 13% ahead of the market; and International sales are up 8.7%.
When and how will the clothing underperformance be rectified?
Our main focus is on womenswear for our Autumn/Winter collections, which will be launched in store and online from the end of July. This re-launch of womenswear will reassert our leadership in quality, stylish, upgraded products; and will be supported by a full marketing campaign as we move through September. We have spent a large amount of time with our customers and Shareholders, and also looking through our archives, as sources of inspiration. We are clear who our core customers are and what they want.
As with the 2005 and 2009 Ashes, will there be a similar t-shirt celebrating should England win against Australia?
Where possible we look to respond to products that we believe our customers want. As such, we will once again keep an eye on the cricket results. Further to this, we have also printed a small quantity of t-shirts celebrating Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon, which will be available in selected stores this week.
Was it necessary for the Board to visit Istanbul when the focus should be on the UK?
The Board visited Istanbul as part of the overall focus on the future; and was a trip that provided great insight into the future of this company. However, our focus is still primarily on the UK. The Board also visited the facilities at Castle Donington and Cheshire Oaks showing we are firmly focused on the UK. The Board is committed to getting it right, not only for this quarter, but so that we have a sustainable, valuable business that you will be proud of.
What does the Board mean by “revolutionary change”, as mentioned in the Annual Report?
This refers to transformation that does not affect the fabric of M&S so much as its ability to compete in a modern, multi-channel world, in a timescale that is consistent with proper assessment of risk. As announced in our 2013 Full Year Results, over the past 3 years we have worked hard to address the legacy of under-investment in our infrastructure, with the aim of transforming the business for the future and turning it into a leading international, multi-channel retailer. Significant strategic progress can be identified through the 359 newly refurbished ‘concept’ stores, the consolidation of our warehouses down to 3, which will enable us to cut delivery times to store and online shoppers; and strong online sales through M&S.com.
Do the Board intend to implement a shareholder discount in stores? If so, when and how much discount can be expected?
In March 2015, in partnership with Equiniti, we introduced the innovative Payment Plus Scheme, an initiative which no other company has put in place, as we understand that our shareholders are our most loyal customers. This scheme rewards shareholders for their investment in M&S, offering them to the opportunity to use some or all of their dividend payment to purchase credit on a ‘Shareholder Card’ at a discount of 10%. This card can then be used in our stores in much the same way as a gift card. The scheme aims to benefit all shareholders who shop with us, and is in addition to the range of vouchers that we currently send to shareholders each January.
With regard to your wish to grow your international presence, as mentioned in the Chairman’s Statement, are the Board aware of what has happened to Tesco with its past American subsidiary?
We believe our international strategy is built around a clear geographic focus, supported by the right business model for each market. There are two aspects to it. Firstly, in well over two thirds of the countries in which we operate, it is actually our partners who are putting their capital into our business to grow the franchise. Secondly, we will not be rushing headlong into those where we are not currently present. We are developing our presence in India, China and the Middle East region, including in Russia and Turkey, as well as developing a multi-channel proposition to customers in a number of Western European countries. This approach is being delivered by a best-in-class international management team, comprised of high calibre external talent, M&S experience and valuable local expertise. The international experience of our Executives, particularly our Board members, is also of critical importance. As a result, we reported this morning that total international sales were up 8.7% based on constant currency; and 11.6% based on actual currency. International sales performances were positive across all regions, with Asia and the Middle East delivering the strongest growth.
What is the Board’s strategy to win the hearts of the 350 million middle-class people in India?
In 2010 we agreed to prioritise certain international markets, with extensive focus on where the stores are located. We defined India as priority number one because we felt it was a good opportunity for the brand. Together with our partner in India, Reliance, we have set a clear plan for the roll-out of future stores in India, with more than twenty stores opening there over the next twelve months. If we look to the next three years, we expect this number to multiply. The Reliance Group are passionate about our partnership, which is important and has changed dramatically in recent years. It is good to have a partner that really wants to invest in and promote our success in the Indian market.
How long until the Shareholders see results?
This question is at the heart of what we are about in this business. We are here to make the right decisions for this business for the long term. If it takes time, we will do it right and get it right.
When and how will M&S deliver a sustained 5 year Shareholder return that outperforms the FTSE 100?
Our strategy has been specifically developed to maximise Shareholder return. As of 5th July 2013, over five years M&S has shown a total Shareholder return of 169% compared to the FTSE 100 rate of 42%; over three years M&S has shown a total Shareholder return of 56% compared to the FTSE 100 rate of 47%; and over one year the total Shareholder return was 47% compared to the FTSE 100 rate of 16%. As such, M&S has consistently outperformed the market. A dividend of 17p per share for year end 2012/2013 will be paid on 12th July, in line with our dividend policy. Our strategy will continue to be to become an international, multi-channel retailer, with the aim of maximising the dividend for our Shareholders in the future.
The attitude of M&S towards smaller Shareholders appears to be changing – would the Board comment.
We very much value you, our loyal smaller Shareholders; and will continue to engage with you and take your comments on board. We also continue to offer our popular Shareholder voucher scheme to all Shareholders, regardless of the size of their holding.
I fear for the M&S brand. Is there going to be a takeover?
As a public listed company, we would inform our shareholders and the market through the appropriate channels were any such bid to occur.