THERE are certain organisations and institutions whose successful performance is seen by the general public as symbolic of the state of the nation itself. Marks & Spencer was for many years one of these. Its reputation for good quality merchandise at sensible prices gave everyone in Britain's high streets a sense of satisfaction and even pride. About five years ago M&S began to go downhill and everyone noticed it; the clothes were dowdy and their quality could not be relied on, while the stores themselves began to look uncared for. People looked at all this and asked, Can't even Marks & Spencer get things right anymore? It was therefore enormously encouraging that M&S's chief executive Stuart Rose was yesterday able to use the recovery word (but with a small r) that he has shunned since he took over in 2004. M&S's upturn of more than five per cent this Christmas has been based on goods as different as ladies stretch boots selling at 35 pounds a pair to free-range Devon turkeys for 11.99 pounds, but, essentially, it has been achieved by a wholly new approach to putting the customer first and making management more visible. M&S is not the only Christmas success story in Britain's high streets; the John Lewis Partnership has also done well, showing that old-established traders can survive when they move with the times, particularly into web business which Mr Rose described as our busiest store.
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