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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 15:34 GMT
Christmas cheer for M&S
Model wearing M&S clothes
M&S saw strong sales in womenswear
Marks & Spencer has continued its recent revival of fortunes and announced better than expected sales figures for the crucial Christmas period.

I think that the recovery is well on its way

Luc Vandevelde, M&S chairman and chief executive
The retailer saw sales grow by 8.3% overall in the seven weeks to 12 January on a 'like-for-like' basis. This includes the total increase of food and clothing sales in stores that were open this time last year.

Sales in clothing, footwear and gifts jumped by 10.4% - nearly double what analysts were forecasting - while food sales rose by 5.4%.

The company's chairman and chief executive Luc Vandevelde told the BBC he was "excited and encouraged" by the latest figures.

"I think that the recovery is well on its way," he said.

Market growth set to slow

"I think that the market conditions are still definitely good enough for us to continue to grow over the next couple of quarters and the next year."

But Mr Vandevelde said there remained plenty of scope for improvement.

Clothes from the Per Una range
The Per Una womenswear range has been well received
"We do see the cup half full in that we do see plenty more opportunities to excite and entice our customers to come back to the stores and buy more."

But he warned that growth was unlikely to be sustained at such high rates.

"I think that we can certainly get our share of the market growth but I would not expect the market to grow at these very buoyant rates that we've seen over Christmas."

"We will most likely see the market come back to more reasonable levels of growth in the area of 5%."

Womenswear drives sales

A strong rise in womenswear sales helped boost the overall figures.

Luc Vandevelde, M&S chairman and chief executive
Luc Vandevelde appears to have turned M&S round in the nick of time
Last year it launched the 'Per Una' range of womenswear designed by George Davies, the man who successfully built up clothing chain Next and the George range of clothing at Asda.

"Womenswear was our top priority last year and it paid off very nicely because it has been the biggest contributor to the very positive numbers that we just announced," Mr Vandevelde said.

"As we get into Spring... I think we'll see continued growth in our womenswear activities"

Last week M&S launched its spring womenswear collection. It was the first collection to be created entirely by its new creative director Yasmin Yusuf, who was brought in last year from Warehouse.

Revival in fortunes

Mr Vandevelde famously gave himself two years to turn the fortunes of Marks & Spencer around, and those two years are up next month.

His prospects looked bleak when in March last year M&S reported their worst profit figures since 1987.

But in recent months there have been signs that business is starting to improve at the High Street giant.

In November M&S reported a 20% rise in profits for the half-year.

And the strength of pre-Christmas sales meant less stock had to be cleared in the January sales, boosting profit margins.

"The margin improvement has been well executed, which is the basis for profit recovery," said Tony Shiret, retail analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston.

Shares in M&S were up 6p at 366p in late morning trade.

The BBC's Jeff Randall
"With Christmas over the trick now is to keep customers spending"
Marks and Spencer Chief Executive Luc Vandevelde
"There are many more opportunites for us"
See also:

07 Jan 02 | Business
M&S kickstarts 2002 with new range
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