Big British retailer moves into Swiss market
Marks & Spencer, the doyen of British clothing retailers, is to open its first store in Switzerland at the end of this month.
Loved by Brits for its lingerie, the 122-year-old chain's arrival in Geneva comes as both the company and its clothing lines are recovering some of their former lustre.
The new store, which will open on the city's highly competitive Rues-Basses on April 27, is expected to be the first of five Marks & Spencer (M&S) franchises in Switzerland. Zurich is set to be next in line, with further stores planned for Bern, Lausanne and Basel.
They will be run by the Greek Marinopoulos Group, which already operates around 30 M&S franchises in Greece and the Balkans.
"We always thought western Europe represented a big opportunity for Marks & Spencer and following the success of franchise stores in other countries we thought we would have a good chance in Switzerland," Dimitris Grigorakis, managing director of the group's Marks & Spencer division, told swissinfo.
Unfortunately for aficionados of the M&S food range, the shelves of the new Geneva store will not be stocked with luxury sherry trifle or salmon en croute.
Despite much searching, Marinopoulos, which is investing more than SFr3 million ($2.3 million) in the Geneva venture, could only find 650 square metres of shop space – not enough to sell both clothing and food.
"We are eventually looking to expand the site but at the moment we cannot offer all the items that Marks & Spencer offers," said Grigorakis. "We thought it would be more appropriate to offer the fashion side in the beginning."
According to store manager Yves Menoud, the Geneva outlet will concentrate on three sections: women's and men's clothing – and, of course, lingerie.
But it will not be an easy ride. Well-entrenched brands such as Globus, Zara and H&M lie in wait, and when it comes to the fashion stakes M&S has not been much of a clotheshorse over the past decade.
This, according to the British press, has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. M&S is generally agreed to have made ground on its rivals and its clothing is no longer viewed as old-fashioned or "uncool".
Menoud, who has worked in the fashion business for 18 years, admits that Britain's biggest clothing retailer has been "lazy" in the past, failing to update clothing lines. But this, he says, is not the case anymore.
"We are never going to be high fashion like Zara, for example, but we are going to be more fashionable than people remember. People are going to be surprised," he told swissinfo.
"Marks & Spencer have done a lot of work on their clothing range and this is not finished. I think they have really changed their mentality about clothing. They realise they need to stay ahead of the fashion market."
Grigorakis, too, believes the franchise store will be able to hold its own among the big hitters along Geneva's main retail drag.
"I think there is always a market for everybody, and because Marks & Spencer is based on quality, value and service, we feel very sure of our success," he said.
"Don't forget that not everyone in Geneva is buying Armani. There is always a need for good value fashion at a reasonable price."
M&S's arrival in Switzerland comes five years after the chain closed its "wholly owned" stores in neighbouring French and Germany, claiming they were no longer profitable.
The company retreated to its core British market but has since seen its international franchise business bloom. There are now around 200 franchise stores in 30 countries.
"Our international franchise department is always looking for new areas to go into around the world. It's a case of finding the right site and the right people, and we believe we have this in Geneva," said Sue Sadler, corporate press manager at M&S headquarters in London.
swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva
The Athens-based Marinopoulos Group says it plans to open Marks & Spencer stores in Zurich, Bern, Lausanne and Basel.
It is investing SFr3 million in the Geneva store, which will employ 13 staff. Two-thirds of them were previously unemployed and were recruited by the cantonal employment office.
Eventually it is hoped that M&S's range of foodstuffs will be available in Geneva.
Earlier this month M&S said it expected pre-tax profit for 2005/6 to be in the range of £745-755 million – up from £618.5 million the previous year.
The company said stores sales in the fourth quarter rose 6.8% – the third consecutive increase.
The retailer has over 400 stores in Britain and 150 "wholly owned" stores worldwide.
In compliance with the JTI standards
More: SWI swissinfo.ch certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative
You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!
If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.