Liberté, Egalité, Crème Brûlée
So the biggest day in the calendar for any British expat in Paris was today, the opening of the first Marks and Spencer on French soil in ten years.
There has been a decent build up to this opening. The website was launched a couple of weeks back offering clothes (but no food.) There has been a noticeable advertising presence in metro stations and on the streets. The buzz was starting to get buzzing.
Even at lunchtime today, it was the talk of the table amongst my (all-French) colleagues. They asked me about English food, what we had that was good, bad and somebody wanted to know what Christmas Pudding was.
I finished work this evening and told my colleagues that I'd be making my way up to 100, avenue des Champs Elysées. My boss' parting words to me this evening were "don't buy anything over 6 months old, even if it's a dessert - I don't trust it!"
In the queue outside, I overheard three French girls behind me chatting excitedly about the Mini Bites (although they were pronouncing it as Mini Bits, which made me chuckle) they'd bought in London once.
Inside, well I'll leave you with my comments.....
The Food Hall is depressingly small. Having walked all the way through the Women's Clothes and Shoes sections to get there, my reaction was "is this it?" They have a good selection of teas, as you would expect. The Mini Bits had practically sold out. I think I might have seen a Percy Pig near the check-out too.
Tick, tick, tick. The thing is, that's practically all they had. The shop itself is a decent size, but I'd say 85% of it is clothes. And this is where the problem, in my opinion, lies. Us Brits don't think much of the clothes from M&S. I think it's fair to say that in the UK, the traditional (because I'm aware that they're recently tried to re-invent themselves) attitude towards their clothes is that they are rather more, err - how do I say this politely, functional than fashionable. What we want is the food that we can't buy in a normal French supermarket. Read about my mincemeat or my chutney attempt, if you haven't already.
Even if you're French, why would you go to buy your clothes or underwear from M&S? The French have far more a la mode brands in the same price bracket. They come because they want British food and other specialities. (Interestingly, another of my bosses was telling me how he wanted to buy Thai and Indian ready-meals from M&S.) Why are M&S catering for the lunch-hour convenience food crowd?
(Another anecdote: I received a text message today from a French friend who I know from when she lived in the UK asking if the M&S stocked Christmas crackers. Her reaction was "That sucks. Even Monoprix has crackers. How can they not?")
I think they've missed a trick. I think they're in danger of falling into the trap that they fell into last time - they're not doing what they do best.
In business terms, when you're going abroad, you have several options. You either try to adapt and become like a local competitor but using your experience in the home market to compete on a certain aspect to give you an edge (be that logistics, customer service etc...) or you go out on a limb to play to your strengths. I worry that M&S have tried to compromise on both sides and will find themselves stuck in the middle. It's not a fault with their marketing but a fundamental fault at management level. They're not catering to the needs and wants of their customers. (I would actually be really interested to know/see what research went into this because in my opinion, their dart is way off bulls-eye.)
Finally, one last thing, they don't have a wine section. I was looking forward to seeing what they were stocking. Were they going to 'go local' and sell French wine? Or have a range made up of predominantly foreign wines? It turns out they've done neither and again, on that count as well, I was disappointed.
Have you been in? What did you think? Even if you haven't, I'd be really interested to hear your comments and opinions.