3 February, 2016

A breath of fresh Ayr

Every new store opening is a new opportunity for M&S. A chance to do things better; to put ourselves at the heart of the community. One of our most recent openings is in the Heathfield Retail Park in Ayr. Our Store Manager, Kirk Russell, is proud to be at the helm.

“I’m very familiar with this area. I started my career with M&S 23 years ago in our Ayr Store. You could say I’ve grown up in Ayrshire, so it’s a bit like coming home. I’m absolutely delighted to be in charge of our latest Foodhall opening.

“The retail park itself has undergone something of a facelift in recent years. There’s been a substantial investment to increase the total retail space to over 150,000 square feet. New signage, modernisations to shop fronts and upgrades to the 800-capacity free car park have given it a new lease of life. 

“It’s appropriate then that our new store will boast some innovative new features too. It’s been designed with the very latest M&S specifications and equipment. There’s new-look signage and decor schemes have been given a more contemporary flavour. Heathfield will be one of the first stores to launch the new ‘Coffee to Go’ format. So customers can enjoy a drink and a snack in store or on the go. It’s 9,300 square feet of the latest in food retailing.

“M&S is very conscious that we’re at the heart of the community. We have a very real responsibility to live up to people’s expectations. This means we work with the local community, bringing employment opportunities to the area and invest our time and energy in local charity partnerships.

“There are a host of roles on offer. Section Co-ordinators, Coaches, a Fire Health & Safety Officer, Food Customer Assistants, Hospitality Customer Assistants, Master Baristas, Store Operations and Customer Assistants are all needed. 

“The store also benefits from fantastic transport links and access off the main A77 dual carriageway with easy access to local neighbouring towns. So whether you want to shop or work here, you won’t have to go out of your way.”

Our team are getting ready to recruit. In the meantime, why not register your interest for our roles, here.

Inside M&S
12 January, 2016

Going above and beyond the call of duty

Customer Assistant Louisa has been proving herself in all sorts of ways since she joined us from another big retailer. Today, she’s a Coach as part of our Café team. She also helps to control our food tills at peak times to ensure that customers always get the best possible experience. But it’s Louisa’s passion for going above and beyond – and her skills as a Dementia Champion – that have really set her apart.  

“As a Dementia Champion, I’ve been able to deal with difficult situations correctly and professionally. For example, I’d become very friendly with a couple who were customers in the Café. The wife had dementia which was getting worse. I took the wife to her hospital appointment when she refused to go with her husband, and I’d sit with her in the Café so her husband could shop. I also invited them both to Christmas Dinner at home to give them a break. This led to me winning the overall service award at this year’s M&S Spotlight Awards – that’s definitely been my biggest achievement here and, alongside becoming a mum to my two boys, my proudest moment.” 

Louisa says one thing that influenced her decision to join M&S was the fact that she already knew people who were working for us.

“Because of them, I knew that this would be a good company to work for and I’ve definitely found that to be the case since I started. It’s a very caring company. It cares for its people, its customers and the environment.”

Since moving to the Café from our Lingerie department, Louisa has been developing fast. 

“When I first joined the Café, I developed a real passion for coffee – if I had to pick my favourite M&S product, it would definitely be coffee from the Café! This passion led to me training to be a Master Barista before moving on to the Café Coach role. I like that I get to meet different people each week and that no two days are the same – I love that variety. I’ve now passed the Section Coordinator assessment, so I’m just waiting for a suitable role to become available.”

Louisa finds the M&S culture to be collaborative and supportive. 

“I have some great colleagues and when we all work as a team, it’s brilliant. We have sports and social groups that run activities for us and you can ask for help whenever you need it – people here are always happy to answer your questions.”

Find out more about store roles at M&S. Click here.

Inside M&S
5 January, 2016

Life of a Plan A champion

What makes a champion? In popular parlance, champions are the stuff of league tables and rock songs. But there is also another kind of champion that we all celebrate: the champion of causes, values and principles. Inspiring effort in support and pursuit of more sustainable solutions for people and the planet.
At M&S, as part of a commitment to continuous improvement towards sustainable goals, committed Plan A Champions are present in all stores. The role calls for a mix of skills and attitude – flashes of game changing initiative, combined with positive persistence over time – and appeals to a diverse range of individuals.
Based in the flagship Cheshire Oaks store, Plan A Champion Sonja McCready has been with M&S 11 years. By her own admission, Sonja did not have a personal history of interest in green concerns, but that has all changed, as she explains: “It’s a passion for me, now. I even take my Plan A home: I badger the kids about leaving the TV on; try to change things at my Mum and Dad’s house – pretty much everyone I meet has been ‘Plan A’d’! It is not just a job thing, it is a way of living.”
Brian Haddrell, a Section Manager in Finance and Operations at M&S Westfield, Stratford City, openly acknowledges what a big impact the role has had on his feelings for the Company: “I always believed in the importance of corporate social responsibility, but M&S really embraces it with integrity and I don't think that will ever leave me. As a Champion, seeing Plan A in action across all areas of the business, I am now even prouder of the brand.”
Brian is a Plan A Champion in an eco-store and, whilst acknowledging there is still a lot to learn, he does believe the eco-store provides him with a big advantage: “I think the team feels really passionate about working in a Sustainable Learning Store; everyone loves the atmosphere and ambience, with so much natural light… From the escalators with motion detection, to the light and open cafés, sustainability runs through everything employees see and touch. It is easier being a Champion in such an environment.”
Nuzzi Parveen, Plan A Champion at M&S Vangarde Monks Cross, agrees: “In a sense, we don’t realise how lucky we are in an eco-store. That said, there are a lot of sustainable features and it can be unnerving not knowing, yet expecting people to ask questions.” Learning how to communicate effectively and motivate colleagues in all sectors of the business and at all stages of Plan A awareness is key to the challenge, explains Nuzzi: “Engagement with colleagues is generally good. However, for some, sustainability may still be seen as an extra chore, segregating your plastics for example… It is the job of a Plan A Champion to engage with them, explain the reasons and pass on the information needed to help them understand why it is important.”
For Sonja, the structured recruitment and training programme in her store assists in bringing starters up to speed: “At Cheshire Oaks, we go in at induction stage and tell new staff about Plan A, about the eco-store and what special features it has. So right from the outset of their career at M&S, they have an insight into the issues and that helps us a great deal.”
Her senior colleague there, Deputy Facilities and Operations Manager, Amy Phipps also sees the benefits of the eco-store approach: “There is such a lot to know it can be quite challenging. You might understand something to be interesting and important, but then ask yourself: ‘How am I going to tell people about this?’”
“It is a big responsibility”, agrees Nuzzi, “but being a Plan A Champion is also a lot of fun, especially doing all the community work and seeing the difference it makes.” 

Inside M&S
5 January, 2016

A taste of success

When Lesley first joined the M&S Pantheon store aged 16, she could never have envisaged that she’d still be thriving here 33 years later. That initial short-term role turned into a nine-year spell in the store where she worked her way up to the role of Food Supervisor. Lesley then joined our Head Office in Food Supply Chain and, over the last 15 years, she has undertaken various roles as a Food Buyer, covering a broad range of categories.  

“Today, my role covers Eat out at home, Hospitality and ‘Deli Counters & Bars,” she explains. “As well as food buying, I’m responsible for new business projects for hospitality. What I love about my role is the fact that I’m empowered to make decisions. I’m working in a team with colleagues in both our Head Office and in the stores, launching wonderful new food developments. It’s really fast-paced, exciting and rewarding work.”

The thing that attracted Lesley to M&S in the first place is something she says continues to make it a great place to work today – the brand. 

“M&S is a great brand. And it’s never afraid of innovating or driving change. I am truly passionate about our brand – the first things I show our new joiners are our stores and our amazing products. We’ve created something that I want to be around for another 125 years, so I want to make sure that we’re always improving, and that we stand by all the things that differentiate M&S from other retailers.”
Lesley has not only experienced an amazingly diverse range of roles, she’s also had the support she’s needed to succeed in them. 

“M&S has always supported my development and there have been plenty of courses to meet my needs. The people here are fantastic too – they’re hardworking, fun, passionate and collaborative. The highlight of my working week is seeing the success when all of our hard work comes together.”  

For Lesley, the M&S value that resonates the most is innovation. 

“Our deli counters have to be best-in-class within our foodhalls. So we have to stretch our boundaries every day to ensure we stand out from all of our other amazing foodhall products. I am a big believer in encouraging our store teams to feedback on what is and isn’t working so that we can make the right decisions and embed a positive change culture.”

So what advice would Lesley give to new joiners?

“It’s important to have fun and to get to know people. You should never be afraid to ask for help. And if you work hard, the rewards and success will follow.”

Lastly, we asked Lesley about her favourite M&S product. 

“It’s really hard to single out one above the others. I love our scampi, our jam sandwich biscuits and our Cheese Tasters – though not at the same time obviously.”

To find out more about Head Office roles at M&S, click here.

Inside M&S
15 December, 2015

Making the most of everyone’s talents

In May 2011, M&S appointed Remploy as our official disability partner. As the UK’s leading provider of disability employment services, they were the natural choice to support us. They bring talented people into the business, who face barriers getting into work, both through their direct hire service and M&S's Marks & Start work placement programme. The partnership has proved to be a huge success, resulting in thousands of recruits joining us in our stores nationwide, as well as in logistics at our national distribution centre at Castle Donington.

One of these success stories is Theo Abraham who works at Castle Donington. “I was referred to the Marks & Start programme via Remploy,” he explains. “I am deaf and without speech, but have never let that deter me when it comes to work.”

Indeed it hasn’t. As Remploy candidates have had structured pre-development, they are able to shortcut the recruitment process by going straight to the store assessment centre with no need for online screening. When a candidate is offered a job, Remploy then provides store managers with all the support needed to help their new employee settle in and progress.

Theo’s progress is testimony to the success of the scheme.  “My experiences bring a new perspective to our discussions. I love knowing that I have helped make a difference to other people’s lives. I’m a real people person, and will happily communicate with anyone,” he says. “I attribute my success in the role to my easy-going nature and willingness to work hard. People often approach me to help them resolve issues, which makes me feel really proud. I aid them in any way that I can and encourage them to move forward and do their job with a smile on their face.”

The Marks & Start programme is designed to help people with disabilities or health conditions, young people, single parents and people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Potential candidates are taken through comprehensive pre-employment modules developed by Remploy. Those who successfully complete the modules take part in a two or four-week placement in an M&S store or the retailer's national distribution centre, and are then offered a suitable vacancy.

Let’s leave the last word to Theo. “I’d encourage anyone overcoming a disability to work with Remploy – I haven’t had a bad day at work since I joined M&S. It’s changed my life”.

For more information on Marks & Start, click here.

Inside M&S
10 December, 2015

Hannah is in the driving seat of her career development

Hannah applied to our school leaver scheme when she was just 21. In April of this year she became a Commercial Manager in the Sutton Coldfield Store and subsequently, since August, she’s been the Food Commercial Manager in Pontardulais Road. Her journey through M&S has been an exciting one and she talks of it fondly.

“First of all the training scheme attracted me, because it's a brilliant scheme to join. I'd never worked in retail before, and I had a few friends who'd worked for M&S and recommended the programme. I've always wanted to work in retail, and obviously M&S is a very reputable company. I really like the brand and what the company stands for.”

Whilst she was in school Hannah never intended to go to university. Her later decision to apply to one was mostly due to the fact that most of her friends were doing it. But thankfully, when the opportunity to start her career in retail with one of the UK’s most beloved brands appeared, it was too good to pass up.

“It was quite an interesting application process. The assessment centre really started to open my eyes in terms of what my job would be like. It was challenging but in a good way because it makes you think outside the box and puts you in scenarios which you might never have been in before. It’s a good way to test yourself.”

“The best thing is how much you can learn. The thing with the programme is that you get out what you put into it. You really have to take charge of your own development and drive it. It's a really great starting block for a promising career.”

“I think the most valuable skill that I've learnt is reflection. Throughout the process I think I've grown a huge amount, and that's down to me having the time to reflect on my performance. What's really good about the programme is they teach you to play to your strengths and when you're conducting a personal development plan, which you review on a frequent basis, you actually start that plan with what you’re good at and not what your weaknesses are.”

To Hannah, the M&S brand values have been more than just guidelines to a good career life. They’ve been a good compass through her personal life as well.

“I try to think, ‘Am I actually representing these four brand values?’. I think it's really easy to actually apply them to the day-to-day jobs that you do. They certainly influence me outside of work, and my personal life as well. I think it's opened my mind a lot more to what type of person I am outside of work; how I come across. I think they've definitely shaped me.”

Finally, we asked if she would recommend the programme to others.

“I would recommend the scheme to anyone who wants to start their career in retail. I think as long as you've got determination, you should apply as soon as you get your A-Levels. I think it is just having those basics; being determined, wanting to kick-start your career and work in a fast-paced environment.”

“I think the biggest piece of advice I would give is to really drive your own development. You have to take charge of it and you have to be the one that really pushes yourself.”

Do you think you've got what it takes to join Hannah? Find out more about our school leaver scheme here.

Inside M&S
9 December, 2015

Our golden girls

M&S has been a stalwart of the UK high street since 1884. A retail innovator from the outset, our business has thrived by inspiring our customers and staying in touch with their needs. This is largely thanks to the dedication and expertise of our people on the shop floor. It is they who deliver our brand and renowned customer service on a daily basis. Two people in particular have made a stand-out contribution to our business. With combined service of more than 110 years, Marion Brown and Andrea Kerr, have a unique perspective on M&S and the changes we’ve gone through over the decades.

When Marion joined the business, Winston Churchill had just resigned as Prime Minister and the young Queen Elizabeth was barely three years into her reign. Says Marion:

“I started work in 1955. Back then, all of the clothes were neatly folded and displayed on counters; so we had lots of staff to keep the shop neat and tidy. We worked 9am till 5pm but the shop closed on Wednesday afternoons. Even then, M&S was a top-quality retailer and there wasn’t the competition there is today from other high-street brands. We even had a hairdresser and chiropodist, as well as a doctor and a dentist. We couldn’t rely on the modern technology that makes everything so much faster though. We had to count the change manually; we couldn't rely on the till to tell us what change to give the customers and there were no self-service tills.

“As with today, customer service was a very important part of the job. M&S was well known for this, and the staff were trained to always put the customer first. The recruitment process was very different too. It was very difficult to get a job here; you had to go on a waiting list as it was such a popular company to work for."  

Andrea, by comparison, is a mere beginner. Although, when you consider she’s been with M&S for over 50 years, the label hardly seems appropriate.

“Back in 1963, every counter had a full-time assistant with a part-timer to help out on a Saturday. We didn’t get Saturdays off but there were no Sunday openings and we also got a half day on Wednesdays. I’ve seen a lot of different styles of uniform come and go, and I’ve worked in a lot of different areas: General merchandise; Stockroom – when there was one; and Admin.”

When asked about the reasons behind the remarkable longevity of their M&S careers, both Marion and Andrea are of one mind: it’s all about the people. 

Says Andrea: “I’ve worked with a lot of true and valued friends who I still keep in touch with; and my present ones were like my family.” 

Marion agrees. She too made many good friends through her experience at M&S. But she also has a more poignant reason for remaining with the business:

“I love meeting and chatting to people and that’s what has kept me going over the years. Also, my husband died aged 40 and left me with two children to bring up; it was going to work which really helped me through this difficult time."
As you can probably imagine, M&S has been keen to celebrate the outstanding long service and dedication of these two remarkable women. In fact, Andrea counts the parties held for her 25, 40 and 50-year anniversaries amongst her most treasured memories. Marion concurs:
"I had a lovely 60s-themed party in store with old friends and colleagues. Four of the managers gave a performance as the Beatles which was very entertaining. I’m also going to London in March to see a show and go to Head Office."

We can’t guarantee you a career as long and as distinguished as Marion’s and Andrea’s but, if your own career gives you a fraction of the pleasure, memories and experience they’ve enjoyed with M&S, we think you could safely say it was time well spent.

Inside M&S
9 December, 2015

Full marks, Simon Marks

If there is one name that stands out in the history of M&S, it is that of Simon Marks. Son of our founder, Michael, he was the Chairman of M&S for 48 years. During this time he transformed the business, presiding over our greatest period of change and expansion.

A junior director and chief buyer at 24; a director at 26; and Chairman at 28, Simon’s undoubted entrepreneurial talents took him a long way in a short time. It was a visit to the US in 1924 that inspired him to embark on the first of many changes and innovations. Here, he learned the importance of attractive displays in spacious premises, proper stock control and sales records and that each foot of counter space had to earn its keep. He also established the direction of the company in selling clothing and food, as well as establishing the precedent of working closely with suppliers to reduce costs, offer value for money and safeguard the quality of products. 

St Michael brand

It was Simon who developed the famous St Michael brand as a hallmark of quality on selected products. The brand was only finally laid to rest in 2000 when it was replaced with the Marks & Spencer brand. He was a man ahead of his times in many ways. He established the Staff Welfare Service, for instance, which was the most comprehensive of its kind at the time. This was, in part, inspired by the shock at the privations his staff were suffering from during the Great Depression, as well as by a heated dinner party discussion on the subject with Flora Solomon, whom he appointed its first head. 

The 30s saw the business grow apace. By 1935, pre-tax profits had reached £1m for the first time and there was a head office move to Baker Street too. As the decade drew to a close, M&S had 234 stores and 18,500 employees. 

Science and technology

Throughout his time as Chairman, Simon was a powerful advocate for another touchstone of M&S’s success. He was an early champion for harnessing science and technology to improve standards and processes; something which remains very much at the heart of the M&S of today.

His dedication, entrepreneurial spirit and shrewd head for business not only enabled him to enhance the fortunes of the business his father founded, it also resulted in several high-profile public appointments. Knighted in 1944, he was made a hereditary peer in 1961 as Lord Marks of Broughton. He died at his desk at the company he did so much to grow and nurture in 1964.

Inside M&S
9 December, 2015

All I want for Christmas

Just over a year ago, Becky Elsey desperately needed a job. The odd bits of work she did have weren’t enough to survive on, especially with Christmas around the corner.

When Becky, 20, spotted seasonal vacancies in her local Marks and Spencer store in Bath, she decided to have a go. One year on and she has bagged a full-time job as section supervisor in the food department and is gearing up her team for the manic festive rush ahead. Her sights are now firmly set on a management role.

“If you’d told me I’d have this job last year, I’d have laughed,” she says. “I had little direction back then and had no clue what I was going to do.” Becky first started on night shifts last November. 

“Working nights meant I got to see how the business ran,” she says. “It was so interesting – I never imagined for one second all the amazing things that go on behind the scenes to make a shop run.”

Becky, who left school in the middle of sixth form, had always imagined she might struggle to get on as she had few qualifications.

“But I felt with M&S from the word go I was being chosen for who I am and my potential – not qualifications,” she says.

Two weeks before her temporary contract came to an end, she was told she would be taken on for longer. “I felt so good and positive about myself – it was a fantastic feeling,” she says.

After that extension, she was told there was a permanent job if she wanted it. “I couldn’t believe it at first,” she says. “I was really surprised. I certainly didn’t expect a career to come out of a Christmas job but now, with all the support and internal training on hand, I feel I can do whatever I want.”

Becky’s tips for making an impression:
•    Be reliable and always on time
•    Use your initiative
•    Be enthusiastic
•    Make yourself invaluable so that if a permanent role comes up you are the first in line
•    Take up any training you’re offered

Are you inspired by Becky’s story? Then take a look at our customer assistant roles here.

Source: this article originated in the Daily Mirror.

Inside M&S
8 December, 2015

Living our values from the inside, out.

Maeve McKeever found her way into M&S via a Business Economics degree at Queens University, Belfast and a short-lived Accountancy career. Starting out in HR, she settled quickly into the business and developed an interest in finding out how our stores ran. She found out about our graduate programme, completed it and, today, she’s a GM Commercial Manager in our Hempstead Valley store.

“I started the graduate scheme last September, so I was in training up until the start of August this year. Then I got my sign-off which means I’m officially qualified now as a GM Commercial Manager. I look after childrenswear, menswear, home and all of our online orders.”

Maeve says she had plenty of support from within the company during her time on the graduate scheme.

“M&S is such a historic company and such an iconic brand that, from the outside, it seems like it’s hard to get into the company and that you have to have loads of experience. I obviously had none, I had never worked in retail but speaking to people that already work for the company - they absolutely love it. M&S looks after its people and everyone I’ve spoken to has had a positive experience working for the company.”

M&S’s retail management programme is unique, Maeve says, in that it offers graduates the opportunity to branch out and experience retail in both food and fashion. 

“I didn’t realise that there was so much within one company and that it was so diverse. That’s what’s so good about M&S; you can progress within the company and you can go in totally different directions. You’re exposed to a lot so you can learn a lot about your strengths and weaknesses. I had a mentor who had previously been through the graduate scheme and understood where I was coming from. I had regular feedback sessions with my mentor and store manager - they really encouraged me to ask for feedback all the time.”

Maeve was left inspired by the M&S values which are part of what makes the business so iconic. It was M&S emphasis on integrity that appealed to her most; seeing how the business promoted it, not just as a value in the way its employees approach their work.  

“It doesn’t matter who you are in the hierarchy of the company. You have to be a good person inside and out. I think integrity feeds integrity in this company. I was able to see how if a manager has a sense of integrity the staff will as well.”

Maeve is forward-thinking as well and sees her future with M&S filled with possibilities. 

“I really do think I’d love to go international for a year and I think that is the biggest thing about M&S; its grown so much and I don’t think people see it. You’re always encouraged to go and try new things. There’s a real ‘go-for-it’ attitude.”

“I think you learn so much about yourself as a person. I moved over from Ireland to England and I found that really difficult at the start. I was quite homesick. To be honest, it was the people that I worked with at M&S that actually encouraged me to stay and really, it’s like a family. We look out for each other. Everyone at M&S is human, and you can approach anybody. Every store I’ve been to has a really positive vibe, I think it’s just the way the company is run; that its values are instilled from the top down and everyone is really nice. It’s a lovely company to work for, it really, really is.”

To find out more about the graduate opportunities available at M&S click here.

Inside M&S


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