Blackfriar: A simple change of the label can help M&S to recover

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The news that retail giant Marks & Spencer is to shake up its top management team after the worst clothing sales for years has been welcomed.

Kate Bostock, who is responsible for clothing ranges as head of general merchandise, will leave the group in October, with former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl coming in as style director.

Ms Earl is credited with transforming Jaeger’s ‘dowdy’ image and rolling out the highly successful ‘Designers At Debenhams’ range.

Investors hope she will do the same at M&S after critics said the retailer no longer appeals to the under-35s, who have switched to more fashionable brands such as Zara and online fashion store ASOS. But Blackfriar believes it is simpler than that.

Many M&S clothes are actually far more stylish, better made and cheaper than what can be found in Zara and TopShop.

The problem is a question of perception.

Retail Week executive editor George MacDonald said: “When I hear talk about Marks and Spencer now, people are surprised when someone tells them that they have got something from M&S.”

Exactly this happened to Blackfriar this week.

A fellow passenger in a lift complimented your scribe on their dress (we are here to challenge your perceptions!).

When told the dress in question was actually from the M&S Per Una range, the lift passenger was suitably astonished.

The point is people don’t expect to find stylish clothes at M&S and this is where the brand needs its overhaul.

Its latest revamped label is ‘M&S Woman’.

Who wants to hand in a coat in a restaurant that says ‘M&S Woman’ on the label? It’s embarrassing.

However, M&S’s other branded name tags such as Indigo, Per Una and Autograph are perfectly acceptable.

Changing people’s perceptions of M&S clothing could be a lot easier than chief executive Marc Bolland thinks.

He just needs to change the labels.

Pet drugs company Animalcare has had a tough year.

Supply problems with pain relief drug buprecare, has been compounded by people deciding not to get their pets microchipped, a process that allows vets to trace lost animals back to their owners.

Pet owners were one of the last consumer areas to stop spending during the recession as British pets are generally seen as beloved members of the family.

However, the fall back into recession has meant many cat and dog lovers have decided not to replace their pets when they die.

In addition, those that can afford to buy a new pet are baulking at the £20 cost of having them microchipped.

On top of all the other costs such as vaccination and pet insurance, many owners are deciding to rely on a collar rather than the electronic tag.

One benefit of the microchipping business is it has given York-based Animalcare a database which gives it opportunities to grow the business through sales of other goods and services.

These include microchip activated cat flaps, GPS collars which allow owners to track down animals if they get lost and links to pet-friendly hotels.

“This is the part of the business that’s directly public facing,” said Animalcare’s chief executive Stephen Wildridge. “When there is an upturn, we will benefit.”

But perhaps now is the time for Animalcare to focus on its core business – pet drugs. This is where the real growth will come from.

Excluding the impact of the temporary disruption to the supply of Buprecare ampoules, pet drugs revenues are 17 per cent ahead of last year.

The group had set itself a target of launching four new licensed veterinary medicines in the year to June 30, but surpassed this with the launch of five.

These included Torphasol, an analgesic for horses; Detonervin, a horse sedative; Emdocam Equine, an anti-inflammatory for horses; Tilmodil, an antibiotic for cattle, and Buprecare multidose, an analgesic for cats and dogs.

Analyst Chris Glasper at house broker N+1 Brewin said: “A confluence of factors has conspired against Animalcare over the last 12 months including the loss of supply of a key product and extremely tough conditions in the companion animal ID market.

“Set against this is a strongly growing portfolio of high margin Vet Meds, a strong balance sheet with no debt and good cash generation.”

Animalcare cannot rely on the economy picking up and people splashing out money on pet-friendly hotels and GPS dog tracking systems.

Now is the time for it to focus on its strengths and increase the number of animal drugs it rolls out this year.