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