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I’m Aaron, a commercial manager at M&S’s Cribbs Causeway store – Cribbs is a big shopping centre just outside of Bristol and one of M&S’s biggest and best stores. I’ve been with the business nine years and have had some great experiences - from becoming a store manager of Swindon Outlet as my first appointment at commercial level, to watching one of my section managers get appointed into their first role as a commercial manager. But a few weeks back I had one of my best experiences to date – running our Soho Menswear pop up for a few days – Mike & Tom’s.

You can read more about Mike & Tom’s here, but in a nutshell a small group of us worked together to set up a pop up that was “new menswear from an old friend.” The shop displayed the very best of our new Autumn/Winter clothes to really demonstrate the efforts we’ve made over the past year to improve style credentials and appeal to a wider customer base.

Working at the pop up was a world away from my usual store – it was a unique space and environment – 1,700 sq ft compared to my usual 122,000 sq ft store (so not as much walking for me!) It was also a much smaller team – just four of us as menswear champions versus a usual group of 55. But the biggest difference for me was the attitude - in both the creation and the running of the pop up. The brief for us as a team was less about sales (though that was still important) and more about engaging customers on change. Our job was to challenge the day to day perception of M&S menswear. And also, to inspire colleagues – 270 came to preview the pop-up before it opened which was really exciting. 

For me, the attitude of the pop-up and the team behind it was reflective of the wider cultural change that’s happening at M&S. Over the years at M&S we’d become a team that was led from the corporate centre – in stores we didn’t always challenge, but crucially we definitely didn’t collaborate with colleagues in the office. Over the past 18 months that’s been changing and this pop up was the ultimate example of a one team approach at M&S - from the designers who created the products, to the product PR team who created buzz in the fashion pages (as well as getting on board seven influencers with a following of 3m), to the Visual team who worked on the look and feel of the pop up, to the guys and I in the pop up engaging with customers – we all played a part. 

Crucially we all played a part in the effective layout of the pop up and it demonstrated that amazing standards and visuals can be achieved with our products. As a business we know we need to work on the customer journey including the layout of our stores – customers often tell me they can’t see the wood through the trees – and it’s something we remain committed to improving. Whilst our stores won’t be laid out like a pop up there’s visual lessons to be learnt from doing it – it wasn’t just something to show off, it was something to learn from. 

At M&S the culture isn’t just becoming more collaborative – there’s also more appetite for change and trying something new – which the pop up demonstrated. Going back to Cribbs the main insight I’m taking is don’t assume something can’t be done – or something old can’t be done differently. Everything we do starts with an idea, so don’t be afraid of saying anything silly, after all, who would have thought we would have a pop up in Soho?

Mike & Tom’s might have closed on Saturday after 20,000 customer visits to the store and online site but the spirit of it lives on. The best-selling products, our cord jacket, knitted polo top and a suede baseball jacket are in all our stores and online now. But most importantly I’m taking back to my team in Bristol real belief that our business is changing – change is a good thing and it’s exciting to be a part of.