Marks & Spencer Private Brand Mecca

This post marks the first of the last of two posts from my Thanksgiving trip to London, where I spoke at the Own Label Conference. As part of my trip I had the opportunity to walk a number of iconic British retailers including the subject of today’s post – Marks & Spencer. The retailer is headquartered in the City of Westminster, London, with over 700 stores in the United Kingdom and over 300 stores spread across more than 40 countries. It specializes in selling clothing and luxury food. M&S was founded in 1884 by Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer in Leeds.

I visited the store at Kensington High Street, a posh address to say the least. The store is uniquely British, American shoppers would struggle to make a valid comparison, the upper floors are clothing, accessories and the like with a number of Private Brands playing central roles including Per Una and the Indigo Collection. The feeling is an unusual combination of Target and Kohl’s with a hint of Macy’s

However the Food Hall is truly amazing, although it does not rise to the sheer decadence of the Harrod’s Food Hall it is in and of its own right amazing. Beautiful produce, unique products and Private Brand as far as the eye can see. Up until a few years ago the food hall was the home, the sanctuary of an 85-year tradition of all Private Brand, even today the national brands are few and far between.

For much of its history the story of Private Brands at Marks & Spencer has been the story of St. Michael. St Michael was a brand that was owned and used by Marks & Spencer from 1928 until 2000.

The brand was introduced by Simon Marks in 1928, after his father and co-founder of Marks & Spencer, Michael Marks. By 1950, virtually all goods were sold under the St Michael brand. M&S lingerie, women’s clothing and girls’ uniform were branded under the St Margaret brand, until the whole line of general merchandise became St Michael.

Marks & Spencer were selling clothes under the St Margaret and St Michael label by the mid-1950s and launched their school uniforms in the early 1950s.

M&S launched their own Private Brands of household products, such as laundry detergent and aluminium foil in 1972, under the era relevant “generic” Private rand name ‘House-care’.

In 2000, Marks & Spencer dropped the St Michael brand, and replaced it with the Marks & Spencer brand. The St Michael name was subsequently adopted as a ‘quality guarantee’ and appeared as the St Michael Quality Promise on the back of food products, on the side of delivery vehicles and on in-store ordering receipts. The St Michael Quality Promise was phased out a few years ago Marks & Spencer.

Take a look at some of the packaging – the design is consistently good, although there are a few duds.

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.