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About M & S

The period of 1884-1900

Marks & Spencer started life more than 125 years ago when the Jewish immigrant Michael Marks came to the north of England. He began as a pedlar; he soon owned a market stall in Kirkgate Market in Leeds. He classified everything by price, but quickly stopped selling more expensive items when the penny section thrived.  Michael decided to look for a partner to help manage his growing business. He initially approached Isaac Dewhirst, who had loaned him money towards his original start up costs. Isaac declined but recommended Tom Spencer - his senior cashier. Tom agreed, and on the 28th of September 1884 Marks & Spencer was born.

Michael moved home, to 20 Cheetham Hill Road, Manchester. In the following year he opened a shop in the lower part of the same building. Early Marks and Spencer shops often had signs outside saying "Admission Free" to encourage customers to come in and browse.

Tom Spencer invested 300pound and brought considerable skills in administration and accounts, which complimented Michael Mark's flair for merchandise, selling and dealing with the people extremely well. Together they created a history that's Marks & Spencer today.

Mark & Spencer called their new stores "Penny Bazaar", keeping the penny price slogan and adding the words "Admission free". This was a successful marketing ploy, encouraging customers to browse without any obligation to buy the products. Whilst this is the norm now, it was unheard of then. By the turn of the century Marks & Spencer had expanded to include 36 Penny Bazaars and 12 High Street shops.

The period of 1900-1920:

This was a period of great change: M&S bought up a number of our competitors, as well as becoming a public company, the original founders both died, and a legal battle ended with Simon Marks eventually regaining control of the company from Tom Spencer's executor.

In 1901, Marks & Spencer built a warehouse at Derby Street, Manchester. It was first property built to its specifications and became the Company's first registered address and headquarters. It was ready for a period of growth that led to M&S having 145 stores by 1915.

Improving the living conditions and rising incomes meant that people were able to buy more of the things they needed from emerging department stores and co-ops. Marks & Spencer catered to this with open displays, browsing and self-selection. And its early stores offered shopping that was cheap, simple and friendly. Marks & Spencer also sold biscuits, mending wools, pins, combs, needles, socks - and in the days before TV or radio - sheet music.

The Penny pricing continued with great appeal until the First World War, when goods became expensive and hard to get. This changed the way Marks & Spencer worked for good.

The period of 1920-1940

In the decades between the wars, Britain moved into the Great Depression. There were shortages of goods, unemployment was nearly 3 million and many companies closed. However, it
was the period that sharpened the business and helped M&S focus and strengthen its strong foundations.

M&S was now facing competition from affordable variety stores. Adapting to keep ahead of the game it changed the pricing system, now selling goods up to 5 shillings. Marks & Spencer also reduced the dazzling array of items offered, placing emphasis on two departments: food, which M&S had always sold to some extent, and clothing, which was new.

Marks & Spencer carved a niche in the market by simply being unique; it offered clothing that was well made but affordable. M&S was the first retailer to have a research laboratory to pre-test the quality of goods and develop innovative new fabrics. Higher quality at lower prices proved very successful.

As more houses were built, the demand for affordable household goods grew. So items like tea sets, and domestic chores were jazzed up with bright, art deco jumpsuits and were sold at Marks & Spencer.

This period really saw the products offered by M&S blend in with the changing lifestyles of its clientele.

The period of 1940-1950

The outbreak of war brought with it rationing, as well as enemy bombing which hit over 100 Marks & Spencer stores, destroying 16 entirely. Marks & Spencer did its share of work during the war days through practical innovations and the invaluable efforts of its employees, who took part in fire watching, raised money for a Spitfire, set up soup kitchens and helped to care for wounded soldiers.

At the beginning of the war 70% of Britain's food was imported from across the sea. U-boat attacks quickly cut off this supply and by 1940 rationing was introduced for lots of food, beginning with bacon, butter and sugar.

At Marks& Spencer food was sometimes solid straight from the delivery trucks in order to keep hungry and impatient crowds calm. As rationing didn't apply to restaurants, people began to eat out more, and by 1942 we had created 82 Café Bars in store.

Restrictions Orders meant clothing was also designed to make the most of material. Here M&S could share its skill at achieving the highest quality for the lowest price. Harry Atkinson, who was a Marks & Spencer technologist, helped the government develop clothing standards. The result was utility clothing, which could be brightly patterned but was very simple in design.

The period of 1950-1960

Rationing continued, but there was a positive side. It had shown people that fashion wasn't just for the rich, but was accessible to everyone. And it also had to be practical - to wash well and last longer. In response, Marks & Spencer put a lot of effort into improving products as well as experimenting with new technologies and fabrics.

Marks & Spencer took man-made fabric which was created in the war and made it into a popular line of dresses influenced by Parisian designers. This fabric was known as Utility Schedule 1005 in wartime, but was now renamed Marspun.

By 1955 fashion finally had the chance to rebel against the harsh conditions of the war years. The New Look dress was based upon the ‘Corolle' collection by Christian Dior, and became very popular. It used a lavish amount of material and went against al the utility clothing regulations.

Marks & Spencer in the year 1957 decided to improve the sizing for ready-to-wear clothes (like tailored ‘super-fit' nylon stockings). A lot research and survey went in to this venture of M&S.

The period of 1960-1970

&Spencer not only created these modern new products but also got them from the laboratory to the store shelved rapidly. The customers of Marks & Spencer had the very latest innovations on a bigger scale than ever before.

M&S innovations included new products made from the man-made fabric Terylene. A type of polyester, it was very popular because it was so practical and hardwearing.

By the end of 1960s M&S was thinking up safe ways of selling dairy products and meats, beginning with chicken. Most stores at the times sold their poultry frozen because of the risks of bacteria causing food poisoning. But M&S believed customers wanted fresh products and began to explore safe ways of selling chilled, rather than frozen, meat.

In order to keep meat fresh M&S invented the ‘cold-chain' process. Chickens were chilled straight after slaughter, carried in refrigerated trucks, kept in refrigerated storage, and sold from refrigerated counters - all at 4 degrees centigrade. The entire cold-chain process, developed with our suppliers, was specially made to our own design, and was unique at the time.

The period of 1970-1990

By the early 1970s, home freezers were becoming cheaper and more easily available so in 1972 we introduced frozen food including lasagnes and pizzas.

By 1973 convenience food was being sold in 100 Marks & Spencer stores and was a huge hit with the public, later helping to explain the popularity of the microwave. With each meal our Catering Department decided on a recipe idea and then worked with our suppliers to create it.

Also in 1973, we were the first major retailer to introduce sell-by dates as a guarantee of freshness. A year later Indian and Chinese meals were first trialled, although they didn't really take off until the 1980s. Marks & Spencer was the first major British retailer to provide these dishes, which are now a big part of our national cuisine.

From the mid-1970s suppliers slowly became more involved in design. Marks & Spencer now gave guidelines on up-to-the-minute trends, and Design Briefs were introduced in 1986. Brian Godbold, Head of Design, described the brief as a buyer's ‘bible'. Lingerie became more fashionable in the 1980s and even thermals were given a fashion ‘edge'. Co-ordinated underwear sets created ‘looks' inspired by catwalk trends.

The period of 1990-Now

Marks & Spencer now has to create improved products and get them to its customers faster than the rivals.

The melting middle chocolate pudding idea came from the food developer at M&S Elaine Kessler. Based on chocolate fondant, a classic French dessert, no other big retailer had ever managed to make it before, and it took 3 times long to create as usual. The trouble was its liquid center. It had to survive storage and transportation without soaking into the outside sponge. It took a lot of time, trials and chocolate to get it right but it proved to be a massive success.

In the clothes department new more exciting lines like per una and Autograph appeared with the help of famous names like Patricia Fields, George Davies and Paul Smith. Collaborations are still keeping Marks & Spencer at the cutting edge of fashion.

Marks & Spencer's 100-point eco-plan will affect every aspect of M&S from in store heating to product labeling, and from waste management to manufacturing. The guiding principles of Quality, Value, Service, Innovation and Trust are now mirrored by the five points of Plan A that target climate change, waste, sustainable raw materials, fair partnerships and health.

The Future

Marks & Spencer has envisioned a 100-point eco-plan. It will be the modern expression of how the business is done at M&S. From encouraging healthy eating to creating fair partnerships and using sustainable raw materials; from managing waste and recycling to becoming carbon neural - M&S wants to continue making a difference.