He has spent all his working life on the retail floors of some of the best-known apparel and lifestyle brands such as Debenhams and Dorothy Perkins. Now, as Chairman of UK retail giant Marks and Spencer, Sir Stuart Rose has aggressive plans for India, where the retailer operates through a joint venture with Reliance Retail. BT's Shamni Pande caught up with Rose for a freewheeling interview. Excerpts:
M and S is transiting from being an aspirational brand to a more affordable one. Are you happy with the progress made by your retail partner here?
We were wrongly priced, we had the wrong partner and were wrongly positioned between 2001 and early 2008. We were seen as an aspirational brand, whereas we should have been an affordable brand for the middle market. We have certainly corrected our prices and there is more work to be done, making it further affordable, which is a continuous process. Here it's important to have the right partnership—it is like a marriage and we believe we have the right marriage now with Mukesh Ambani and Reliance Retail. Though it is early days yet and we are still in the honeymoon period, but we are happy with the way things are moving here. We now want to have children and grow the family.
In India, why has M and S digressed from its strategy of large-format stores to much smaller 500 sq. ft stores for its home solutions?
We inherited this format from our previous partner (before we signed a partnership with Reliance) in India. I believe that some of those stores are too small and we are closing many of them. If you ask me, the right size for a store should be at least 20,000 sq. ft. It is the sort of size we should be looking for; it allows us to show off our catalogue better.
You have introduced different lines for India in clothing...
We understand that every culture is different—in terms of styling, fit and colour. So, we will bring in the UK catalogue and add more colours and fits to suit the market here. But it will be the same product that we have anywhere—we will add to the same range to cater to the needs of the consumers here. We are looking to scale up our clothing business and hope to have 50 stores in the right cities and locations across the country in five years.
You have a sizeable presence in the food segment in the UK. What are your plans in India?
The most important thing to do here over the next five years is to grow the size of our business and make it scaleable. Entry into food segment is not essential, though we are big in the UK. This segment has many problems around scale, logistics and legal issues. Hence, food is not very important in our first stage of development.