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MARKS & SPENCER

 

 

            On January 13, 1961, Time magazine ran the following report concerning Marks & Spencer, which was then Britain's most prosperous retail chain, with 237 stores and annual sales of $420 million:

 

            Marks & Spencer's vendetta against paper work started one Saturday early in 1957, when Sir Simon Marks came across two salesgirls carefully filling out long inventory-replacement cards while customers fumed for service.  "What are these cards for?" he asked.  The girls did not know.  Sir Simon found that they were to keep track of merchandise in the stockroom, to curb employee pilfering and to tell the store manager when to reorder.  Sir Simon ordered them abolished and let the sales clerks go freely into the stockrooms to get whatever they needed to sell.  Pilfering not only did not increase, but the clerks sold more because they knew exactly what was in stock.  Furthermore, store managers found they could tell when to reorder simply by looking to see what shelves were getting bare.

 

            From then on, war was declared.  Sir Simon found that his company was riddled with ponderous forms.  "I didn't understand some of them.  Why, I couldn't be a sales clerk in my own organization."  He told his staff to examine every form and ask, "Would our entire business collapse if we dispensed with this form?"

 

            And so, while many businessmen are installing electronic gadgets to keep their records, 72-year-old Sir Simon is taking exactly the opposite approach.  He has wiped out so much record keeping that he has junked 120 tons of paper forms, saved $14 million.  He was able to cut prices 5% and was rewarded with an 17% sales increase from April through September 1960.  Business in the second half of his fiscal year looks even better.  Some 8,000 jobs out of 28,000 have been eliminated, but no one was fired, because Sir Simon promised when he began his Marksian revolution that he would absorb everyone either through expansion or simply not refilling a job when someone left.

 

            Sir Simon also gambled that customers are as trustworthy as sales clerks, and stopped giving out sales receipts, which most stores demand before they will take merchandise back from a customer.  Now, as long as an article bears the M. & S. special St. Michael brand name (commemorating his father), it is easily exchanged at any branch.  He threw out time clocks, reasoning it was silly to keep tabs on employees who were occasionally late, just to catch the few consistently late arrivers whose habits would be known to supervisors anyway.  He silenced the jangling bell in employees' canteens that announced when lunch periods were over, letting clerks decide among themselves when to eat, thus checking on each other.  Thick manuals that covered what to do in any situation were tossed out, replaced by one slim book. . .

 

            Sir Simon still spends much of his time poking about his stores, chatting with clerks to see how much more paper work can be cut out.  Any operation that has been in effect over six months--long enough for paper work to sprout--is under suspicion.