The perfect judgement call
Initially, I was attracted to M&S by the attractive pay and benefits. This was back in 1981. I can still remember my first day. I was 16 and I’d just left school to enter the big wide world of work. From the moment I started at the Brent Cross store, I was put at my ease and felt confident of the support of those around me in the Menswear team. In fact, I’m still friends with one of the girls that I started with.
Four years later, I left to concentrate on bringing up my children. I was sad to leave but I wouldn’t have missed out on these years with my family for anything.
I came back to M&S in 2003 as a temp and, in between, I owned my own café from 2000 to 2004. Having worked at M&S previously, I’d developed an in-depth understanding of customer service and what customers expect. These were invaluable learnings and undoubtedly helped me to run my business.
If I had to sum up my role in three words, I’d choose troubleshooting, people and challenge. Being responsible for 85 stores and line managing 31 staff certainly accounts for the last two; fulfilling my role to the very best of my abilities most definitely relies on the first. What I do is demanding but I’m the kind of person who thrives on this; problem solving is in my nature and my job constantly requires me to think differently.
What I enjoy most about my current role is the ambiguity it entails. I’m constantly called upon to make judgement calls. Making the right ones calls for solid commercial awareness, a deep understanding of our values and the ability to analyse the information at hand. There is definitely an M&S way of doing things and this helps guide what I do. What’s more, every day is different. I travel between two hubs and my line management responsibilities add an extra dimension of interest. As the Switchboard part of the business continues to change, my role evolves with it, so we’re constantly innovating.
It’s not just the variety in my role that I like either. The people I work with our just great. We hire people because they share our values; this doesn’t mean their clones, far from it. We’re all signed up to a certain way of working but this is never to the detriment of our individuality. New joiners quickly learn what’s expected of them and I make a point of talking through the standards and level of service we expect. The most important advice that I give them is to be human, to care about what they do and add a little bit of sparkle. They say it takes all sorts and we definitely have all sorts of people at M&S. It makes for a richer work experience. The job security and emphasis on a healthy work/life balance are big plusses too.
My second life at M&S began in Foods at our London Colney store. I then moved on to work as a Coach to M&S Café staff before quickly stepping up to Section Co-ordinator. A year later, I was promoted to the first of my two Section Manager roles; the first being a six year spell in Foods, followed by two years in Homeware. These were the idea preparation for stepping up to become Regional Switchboard Manager. My on-the-job learning has always been supplemented by classroom-based courses to support my knowledge of M&S processes.
In terms of what make me tick, I think I’d say it’s my ability to work well under pressure. As a manager, I believe I’m fair in how I treat people and communicate well with all levels of staff, whether it’s with managers or advisors.Inside M&S
Master Barista; Profiling Steven
Before Steven joined the M&S team, he was an M&S customer. And he’s taken that experience into his job.
“As a customer, I always had the feeling that everything mattered, however small the detail, and since the day I became an employee I’ve similarly strived for excellence,” he explains. “The best thing about my job are our customers – that’s certainly what I’ve found out moving from being a Chef back of house to a front of house Café role. What I like is that every customer is different, and you get to meet so many funny characters daily that your interpersonal skills improve no end.”
In his time at M&S, Steven’s career has moved on rapidly and he’s now a Master Barista, which he rates as his greatest achievement. We helped Steven by arranging for him to attend the Matthew Algie Coffee School. Not only has this benefitted Steven personally but given him a knowledge of coffee he can share with others and enabled him to live our values.
“Every day I inspire other Baristas to improve their latte art. I set them a weekly challenge to do better than they did the week before. And I’ve helped another Master Barista to create a drink for the Barista of the Year competition. I also go out of my way to help customers with any Café-related queries. It’s all paid off, too. We’ve recently introduced new coffee audits nationwide and I’m proud to say that our team has achieved 100%!”
Coffee shops have become a near necessity for modern life and our Cafés provide a fantastic environment for customers to unwind after shopping in our bustling stores. Our Master Barista programme goes from strength to strength and we’re always looking to improve the standard of our drinks to become the best coffee house on the high street. Steven takes his role seriously in making the whole operation run smoothly, but he still has time for some fun.
“I remember that for our Macmillan coffee morning our Café Assistants decided to dress up as Disney characters. I showed up as Snow White. That certainly raised a few eyebrows… and gave a few children nightmares!” he laughs. “That was a one-off, but there are always activities going on. We play football and we’ve got a tournament coming up soon. And our Christmas parties are not to be missed.”
So which of our coffee products would Steven recommend for the morning after the Christmas party?
“Our triple certified coffee beans,” he replies without hesitation. “It’s absolutely amazing!”Inside M&S
The right blend of ingredients
“When the opportunity arose to combine my wine trade background with a commercial buying role at M&S, I definitely couldn’t refuse. I was completely sold on the M&S’s drive to bring newness and innovation to market, together with their willingness to spend more time with the supply base than other retailers I’d worked for.
“We’re the only retailer that gets involved in creating and blending our own label Champagne. We have three full-time winemakers, one of whom is responsible for blending Oudinot Champagne. That’s a massive commitment; particularly since the blends made this year will then be laid down in the cellars in Champagne. It will be three years before they’re ready to be sold.
“Our sourcing strategy involves working with a range of long-term suppliers to deliver a range that has clear tiers that customers can understand. From our core brand, Oudinot, moving upwards to a range of Premier Cru, Grand Cru and Vintage Champagnes. This culminates in a range of luxury branded Champagnes. So there is something to excite at a range of price points and cater for different budgets.
“Wine, essentially, is an agricultural product. It’s affected each year by the health and size of the harvest. That makes quality and quantity tricky to manage as it’s ever changing. I love the breadth of producers that we work with and that we are spoilt for choice – for every producer we work with there are hundreds of other great producers that we have to turn down. If only we had more space on our shelves.
“A good wine buyers understands what customers want and delivers it in a way which enables the category to hit its sales and profit targets. As I became more established as a buyer, I’ve put more emphasis on developing my leadership and management capabilities. I now have three line reports in the team and the most satisfying part of my job now is seeing them succeed.
“In terms of my own development, M&S is sponsoring me through the Master of Wine qualification. Typically, takes five-seven years to complete. There are only 350 people globally that hold this qualification; so it is a huge challenge. I passed the theory element of the exam last year which was a big coup.
“Integrity is a key aspect in making buying decisions. Our South African wine range is a testament to that. We’ve significantly grown our range of Fairtrade wines and I’ve seen the benefits this has brought to local communities first hand. Improved access to education, and the peace of mind vineyard workers have from knowing their children are being looked after in a proper crèche or school is just one of these.
“There is a culture at M&S that allows me the freedom to take calculated risks in order to deliver innovation. Take our recently launched wines from New York State for instance. We’re the first retailer to launch these and, while they may not be high volume lines, we’re willing and able to give them a go. So far sales have exceeded expectations.
“We’ve achieved a great deal as a team. We’ve won retailer of the year at all the three major wine competitions for three years running and have more medals for our wines than any other retailer. But it’s still our customers’ seal of approval that matters most.”Inside M&S
Meet Andy – Regional Visual Merchandiser
M&S clothes are increasingly fashion-forward, putting Visual Merchandising at the very forefront of the business. Andy’s been with us for 15 years. Watch the video to discover why he believes this this is the best time to be in Visual Merchandising at M&S, the sheer energy that goes into inspiring customers and how he makes the right merchandising decisions.Inside M&S
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The perfect sandwich put Ryan on a roll
Perfection has long been a hallmark of M&S. We’re readily embracing new technology. And we’ve always been a people-before-process kind of place. So how, we thought, could we combine all three? The answer was an online app that allowed students to create their own perfect sandwich. We invited students to choose their bread and fillings, then submit and share their idea to win an M&S visit tailored to their area of interest – plus the opportunity to see their sandwich assembled in our test kitchen.
And… drumroll… winner of the grand prize was Ryan from The University of Reading. But little did he realise there was more to be won than our grand prize.
Ryan’s innovative concoction was the Pepper Salmon Avocuddle. This was made up of Sourdough bread packed with a filling of smoked salmon, avocado, rocket, roasted peppers, wasabi peas and pesto mayonnaise. Ryan takes up the story…
“I had registered my interest in working for M&S when this quirky app popped up. I’d always thought of M&S as the place for tasty food on the go and this seemed to be another sign of how they wanted to be at the forefront of food innovation. Making a digital sandwich appealed to my sense of humour so I decided to give it a go although, to be honest, I didn’t think anything would come of it. I love the combination of salmon and avocado so I built my creation around this pairing.”
Well, something certainly did come of it and Ryan along with two runners-up visited our test kitchen to see their digital ideas become reality – an experience Ryan described as “very exciting”.
He also travelled to M&S HQ for the Insight Day, where he was made welcome and felt comfortable asking questions as the day unfolded.
“The day was extremely valuable, helping me to build a clearer image of product development in the food-to-go category. But the real highlight was meeting a director from one of the suppliers to M&S who told me about food manufacturing careers. It was this conversation that inspired me to apply for the role. When I was invited to an interview, I had the advantage of knowing all about the relationship the company had with M&S. The upshot is, I’m now joining them as a Graduate Development Technologist and I can’t wait to get stuck in. I thrive in a motivated environment and, with the transferable skills I’ve already developed, I hope to hit the ground running.”
Well done to Ryan on winning our competition and landing a job. And if there’s a message in his story…
“The job you want is out there, although sometimes you need to look from a different perspective to find it,” he says.Inside M&S
The best of the bunch
“Unsurprisingly, the two weeks of Wimbledon are one of our busiest sales peaks on fruit, particularly strawberries. We see up to a 20% uplift over the two weeks and strawberries are usually the first thing customers see when they come into store. This is supported with great marketing and other deals. We spend months working with suppliers and growers to plan for the strong increase in demand and make sure we have enough strawberries to fill our shelves. We’re always learning, however, and each year is different. So we spend time after Wimbledon analysing sales to help with next year’s planning.
“It’s been an interesting journey to where I am now. It started back in 2003 when I became a Foods Section Manager. Everyone recognises M&S as an iconic high street brand; it’s renowned for its products too. These were the two main factors that brought me here. From Foods, I joined the Retail Graduate Scheme, followed by stints in four different stores. Next came a Head Office move to work in our Wine Category; I became a trainee buyer in 2007 and have worked in several categories, including Bakery, Desserts, Frozen and Meat & Poultry.
“The opportunity to travel the world is probably the best thing about my job. I get to meet a wide variety of growers and try their exceptional products, before serving them up for our customers to enjoy. The great thing about M&S is that we’re always ready to innovate. This inspires our customers to be passionate about our brand; and the team to be passionate about delivering for them.
“A good buyer seeks out products that will delight our customers. There’s always a standard to meet or benchmark to exceed. Value and price are key across the board. In Fruit, it’s all about size, shape, colour and flavour. We work extensively with growers from all round the world to source, develop and grow only the best varieties which will delight our customers every time. We also work with breeding companies to identify and develop the varieties of the future. These may take up to five years to get to our shelves, so we’re always looking a long way ahead.
“The main challenge with buying fruit is you’re at the mercy of the weather. Good weather can really help drive customer demand and sales but, equally, poor weather can affect how quickly fruit develops on the plant and can lead to issues with customer availability. The challenge is how you manage the gap between supply and demand. The relationships we’ve built with suppliers mean they are passionate about delivering what we need, so we’re well placed to deliver for our customers.
I’ve worked for M&S for 13 years now and there’s never been a time when I haven’t felt challenged or not wanted to learn more. I have had the opportunity to work across many different areas of the business, in stores and in Head Office, as well as across a number of key food categories. I’ve always felt supported and encouraged to try something new. As long as what you want to do is well thought out and you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve then it’s all to play for.Inside M&S
From one style icon to another
When it comes to fashion retailing, Allie has seen more than most. Before she joined M&S, she spent 12 years with Topshop/Topman, excelling in roles ranging from brand management to store management and operations. But she had a long-standing interest in working for M&S...
“M&S had always been a company I aspired to work for,” she explains. “And after I made a connection on Linkedln, I had the chance to learn more about the company and its focus on fashion and design. And from that, I had the opportunity to apply to work here.”
Allie says the key to success in her role is communication.
“What I love most about my job is spending time with my customers and my team. I never miss an opportunity to listen to feedback and suggestions from customers as they really influence my thinking. And my team members come up with some amazing ideas, too, which inspire me to try new things. That’s not to say I don’t wander down the high street and read a lot of blogs and magazines because I’ve a passion for fashion, but a lot of it is about people.”
It was customer feedback that certainly inspired Allie’s involvement in our Love Sparks week. This week was designed to re energise Sparks in store, we focused on team and customer communication. This varied from fun team briefs to open evenings in our cafés to promote Sparks.
“The week created a huge amount of excitement in stores and we rolled it out across the Merseyside Cheshire and North Wales region. It was a lot of fun but it also had a big impact on bottom-line performance. I’m proud to say that every store on my patch increased their Sparks transactions. That’s got to be my biggest achievement at M&S.”
Allie joined us 12 months ago, but she’s already experienced two different roles in the same store.
“In April 2016, I became service rep for our Merseyside region. This role really excites me as there is nothing more important than our customers. I’ve been able to engage the region on key activities and support new business rollouts such as the new service portal.”
Customers are a recurring theme of Allie’s story…
“I have a pretty full ‘to do’ list every day. How I cope with that is to start with my customer hat on first and work backwards from there. Whatever the day brings, I make sure a significant part of it is spent with customers.”
You might think that, bearing in mind her background, there was nothing more for Allie to learn about fashion retailing, but she’s quick to counter that suggestion.
“I learn new things every day! I had a fantastic induction and I enjoy attending workshops and visiting different stores to learn from other people – there’s a lot of experience you can tap into. And regular reviews and personal development planning sessions have kept my career on track. I love the pace of the job and see every challenge as an opportunity. It makes me more creative and strive even harder to make a difference.”
When she’s away from work, Allie’s seriously into fitness and goes to the gym three times a week, but she does admit to one weakness:
“The M&S salted caramel profiteroles are to die for.”
Allie is thriving here at M&S – and if you’re a similarly commercially-focused manager working in fashion retail, so could you.Inside M&S
Holding out for a hero
Our people go out of their way to make the most of every customer’s experience. James joined M&S in a seasonal role 14 years ago. Despite finding the tills a little bit tricky on his first day, he’s still with the business some 14 years later. James was singled out for praise by one of our customers during recent events in Glasgow which left her elderly relatives unable to travel and without food at Christmas. Thanks to James’ act of kindness they were reminded that there is good in the world – and weren’t left eating sandwiches at Christmas. James tells us how he’s progressed through the business.
“I’d taken early retirement from British Polythene Industries. I was off to a bit of a shaky start with the tills but the good thing about M&S is they’re good at playing to your strengths, so I soon found my niche. Today, I work in Store Operations, focusing on Health & Safety training and compliance. If I had to sum up my role in three words, they would be ‘keeping staff safe’. But there’s so much more to what I do here.
“I work in our Greenock store. What I love about what I do is the variety; no two days are ever the same so there’s always a new challenge to overcome or problem to solve. That’s pretty much what makes me tick. It’s an interesting job. Store environments are deceptively complex, so there’s no end to the opportunities to make things better – and safer. The people are great here too; always friendly and very welcoming.
“After my initial contract was extended, I was asked to set up a training programme. I had experience of this in my previous role, so it was a natural development for me. Next, I moved on to overseeing recruitment.
“One thing M&S is particularly strong at is training. I made the most of this by taking some courses to become a Relief Section Manager. After this, I spent four months in, what was then, Service & Tilling, before moving on to become a Fire Health & Safety Officer. That was 12 years ago and I’m still going strong.
“I like to think I brought with me a strong work ethic to the business. I listen and show empathy, with colleagues and public alike. M&S built on these qualities by supporting my development and I’m hugely grateful for their investment in me. Our store has a great work environment and a fantastic relationship with customers; even to the point where some of them send us Christmas cards. It really is a wonderful place to work.”
Success at the Retail Week Customer Experience Awards
We were extremely thrilled to have attended the Retail Week Customer Experience Awards last week, where we picked up a duo of awards!
We are proud to have been crowned the winner of Loyalty Initiative of the Year as well as The Informatica Customer Insight Initiative of the Year.
The Retail Week Customer Experience Awards is the definitive event for retailers and suppliers who are shaping the future for customer experience - so a very big well done to all involved!Inside M&S
Scott, People Policy Specialist
“Pride for me is an opportunity for the LGBT+ community to recognise and celebrate the achievements that have been made during a challenging history. It’s a time to remember those people who’ve worked hard and made sacrifices in paving the way for our community, so that future generations won’t be discriminated against or victimised. It’s also an opportunity to highlight the challenges we still face, both in this country and around the world.”
Scott is a People Policy Specialist in our Human Resources team, is CIPD qualified and has BA in Psychology. He has had an important role to play in making sure LGBT+ people are represented at M&S and he thinks that the newly established LGBT+ Yammer group can help us to listen to our employees, to hear about any issues they may have, and to ensure that everyone here can have open and honest discussions about the topics that are important to them.
“I was particularly nervous about coming out. I was 20 years old and, until that time, I’d been in straight relationships. I struggled personally – coming out to myself was probably the initial obstacle; accepting the way I am despite having known I felt different to others from an early age. When I did accept that this was who I was, I felt an incredible pressure had lifted.
“Then I had to face the process of coming out to friends and family. I was at university and coming out to my friends was emancipating; they all accepted me for who I was and their friendship did not waiver. Coming out to my family was a little tougher. However, over time my family have come to understand what it means for me to be gay and they have always continued to love and support me, my partners and LGBT+ friends.
“I attended Pride for the first time in the early 90s. It was a much smaller event then and was at the time of Clause 28. The sense of political activism at the time felt much stronger as there was greater inequality in relation to our community than there is today. I had just come out, so it was an exciting time, but it was also slightly unnerving trying to understand how I would fit in to this new community and who I would identify with. I feel that Pride today is more celebratory than it used to be, but it still maintains the principle of promoting LGBT+ visibility.
“In my lifetime, there have been some incredible changes – equal age of consent, gender recognition, civil partnership, same-sex marriage and adoption, and LGBT+ people being allowed to serve openly in the military.
“Personally, I now feel much more confident in having the freedom to express myself as a gay man – I have the courage to be myself. Having said that though, there are times that I still feel inhibited in being able to do the things that others take for granted, like showing public affection towards my partner. I believe that society has become far better educated when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but there is more to be done to give people the freedom to really be themselves.
“Being an openly gay man, I feel that I can be myself. I believe being gay has made me accepting of other people’s differences and given me a greater appreciation for diversity. It has developed in me a greater sense of fairness and I feel this stands me in good stead within both my personal and professional life.
“For the first time, M&S will be taking part in Pride in London and I have had a role to play as part of the steering group. What has been amazing about this process is the amount of support we’ve had from people around the business who are willing to donate their time and expertise to help achieve our goals.”Inside M&S