Marks & Spencer boss Steve Rowe said it was leaving "no stone unturned" as a new management line-up overhauls "every aspect" of its struggling clothing and food stores in a bid to appeal to younger shoppers.
After more than a decade of failed attempts to revive the high street giant, Rowe gave a stark assessment of the chain's problems as a small increase in first-half profits. "Confusing" promotions are put off by shoppers, and their clothing arm was an aging "customer base and dated stores.
"Against the background of profound structural change in our industry, we are leaving no stone unturned," said Rowe. "Every aspect of our ranges – how we trade, our supply chain and marketing – is undergoing scrutiny and change. We're going bloody fast, trust me. "
Rowe's comments came as the group reported a 7.1% increase in pretax profits to £ 126.7m in the six months to 29 September. However, group sales declined 3.1% to £ 5bn as it shut 24 stores. Part of a plan to ax 100 branches by 2022. M & S's share price closed down 0.5% at 300p.
The profit figure was depressed by nearly £ 100m of one-off costs. A further £ 11.1m is a corporate culture that was "siloed, slow and hierarchical".
Archie Norman, the turnaround expert who took over as chairman a year ago, insisted that M & S was a business where "things are really beginning to happen", with the figures "roughly what we expected them to be ".
"A lot of it is behind the scenes, the blocking and tackling, the unglamorous things such as supply chain … tackling a legacy that goes back to the decades, "said Norman. "If Steve [Rowe] It was Donald Trump, he would probably be declaring today's results to be a great personal victory, but that is not really quite the way we see it. "
Clothing sales at stores open for more than one year were down 1.1% hindered by poor stock levels on popular styles. M & S recently hired the Lady of the Morning presenter Holly Willoughby to pick her clothing "must-haves" for the season, but some of the outfits she picked, such as £ 49.50 leopard-print dress, sold out in several sizes within hours.
"We are letting customers down with availability," said Rowe, who last year poached Jill McDonald from Halfords to lead the business. "We have some good products this season and the ranges are improving, but we are still in a position where we are buying too many [clothing] lines. The range is too broad and too shallow. "
Next season M & S will buy more dresses and trousers in sizes eight through 14, but fewer in a 16 and above, in a bid to improve stocks, he said.
M & S did not rule out further store closures as third of the retailer's 1,029 stores date from before the second world war and some are located on ailing high streets. Rowe said: "We will not pause at 100. We have got to make sure that M & S is relevant and fit for the future."
The retailer also has a lot of redevelopment options for another 80 of its older stores, some of which are freehold sites.
M & S's previous reliable food business is also in trouble, with 2.9% in a competitive grocery market. His food halls had become "excessively dependent" on short-term promotions and multi-buys such as the popular but unprofitable "Dine In" deal, Rowe said.
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Tom Stevenson of Fidelity Personal Investing said: "Reading through M & S is like taking a cold shower. The company is ruthlessly honest about the massive challenge it faces. Sales is still declining, in the context of which flat profits are not a bad result. "