As with all of my interviews, I like my conversations to start at the beginning. This one was a bit different though, as I have known Richard Price for over 20 years.
Richard grew up in Blidworth, a village in Nottinghamshire. “My father was a miner,” he tells me, “and he invested every waking hour in his twenties and thirties in ensuring that we wouldn’t have to follow him down into the coalmines.” This investment clearly paid off. In 1984, Richard attended Wolverhampton University where he studied business, before joining Next as a Merchandising Manager.
Next laid the groundwork for Richard’s thirty-year career in the apparel and homewares sector, and gave him a passion for turnarounds and transformation – a theme that has run through all of his career. “It was fantastic exposure to working on a brand that was the new kid on the block,” Richard reflects, “we were moving fast, opening stores, building a business from scratch. I was there when George Davis fell from grace and Simon Wolfson took over. The business was in freefall and the share price was 6p.”
After nearly 16 years at Next, Richard joined M&S for the first time. “I was either going to stay at Next forever or challenge myself somewhere else,” he told me. “I couldn’t go through my career not knowing what life was like elsewhere. I felt it was time to test myself – I didn’t want to have any regrets.”
“I couldn’t go through my career not knowing what life was like elsewhere. I felt it was time to test myself – I didn’t want to have any regrets.”
Richard’s move to M&S was driven by a desire to be part of something groundbreaking. It was 2005, Stuart Rose was assembling a new team and the retailer was on the cusp of its first turnaround chapter. “Back then there was a likeness to what’s happening now… I knew I had to be involved in that.”
Following a seven-year stint at M&S, Richard – by this point Menswear Director – made the brave decision to take up the MD role at Philip Green’s BHS. I asked him why. “When I left Next, people thought I was mad,” he laughed, “and when I left M&S, people thought I was completely mad! But I’d done 24 years in PLCs and I wanted to see what life was like in a private business.” By this time, Marc Bolland had joined M&S and the Stuart Rose era was over. It felt like a good time to go.
“I thought it was the ultimate high street challenge – if I could lead a turnaround at BHS then I could do anything ” he tells me. I asked him what it was like working under Philip Green. “It was challenging, and very interesting,” he tells me with tongue firmly in cheek. “Philip’s a tough taskmaster, and at the time he was really at the top of his game.”
After BHS came yet another turnaround project: Tesco. Richard joined the grocer as CEO at F&F Clothing three months after Dave Lewis took the helm. “Dave was a great leader and I learnt a lot about the relationship between grocery and general merchandise and of course, e-commerce,” Richard said. “I’ve taken a lot of what I learnt at Tesco with me through to M&S.”
Richard didn’t have the smoothest start to M&S. Held to nine months garden leave by Dave Lewis, it wasn’t until July 2020 that he stepped up as MD for Clothing & Home. On his first day, Richard had planned to take all 500 of his team down to the conference room – known as Percy’s – and introduce himself. But of course, everyone was working from home, there were no samples in the office, and the building at Waterside was eerily empty.
Thankfully, this didn’t last forever. Today, shopping for clothes at M&S is a very different experience to what it once was. Gone are the rails of black trousers and shirts, replaced with coordinated outfits, carefully-considered store layouts, beauty halls and style-led displays. The products on offer have never been better.
“When I joined, the Clothing & Home business was lacking in confidence,” Richard told me. “The first step was working with the teams to convince them what a great brand we had, and show them that customers really wanted us to succeed. Everyone you meet loves M&S and wants us to delight them.
“Most of all,” Richard reflected, “I wanted to put out product that’s not just needed, but wanted. We’ve always been good at basics, but I wanted people to come to M&S to find outfits, to find inspiration.”
Richard and the team have certainly revolutionised Clothing & Home. Under his leadership we’ve seen the introduction of third-party clothing brands and collaborations; the move into resale and rental; a refreshed approach to beauty and home offerings; a shift away from promotions to be a fully full-price company; a reduction in stock, and a significant investment in product. And these measures have paid off: on Wednesday M&S announced a stellar set of full-year results, with Clothing & Home delivering full-price sales growth of 28.5% from last year.
Alongside Sacha Berendji, Group Property, Store Development and Technology Director, Richard is developing a new approach to M&S stores. “We’ve just reopened our latest Renewal Store in Stevenage, the first where Grocery and Clothing & Home work in harmony. Our offering is a much more confident mix of own and third-party brands, and we’ve really focused on technology. The store has surpassed all expectations, increasing turnover five-fold but in addition, our e-commerce business has really taken off.”
“I think it’s a relentless focus on customers, and an unwavering attention to making good product. It’s about knowing your customer and investing in product so it’s the best it can be.”
After thirty years involved in retail transformations, I ask him if there’s a secret to a successful turnaround. “I think it’s a relentless focus on customers, and an unwavering attention to making good product. It’s about knowing your customer and investing in product so it’s the best it can be.”
By the end of our meeting, I’ve noticed that there’s one word which keeps cropping up: confidence. Richard joined M&S at a point when every retailer – every business – lacked confidence about the future. Two years on, and Richard’s vision and leadership has spurred M&S C&H on to become the self-assured organisation that it is today. Under the new stewardship of Stuart Machin, with Katie Bickerstaffe and Eoin Tonge, things will only get better and better.
Quick fire questions
Where were you born? Blidworth, north Nottinghamshire.
Who are your family? My dad, Ivor, worked down the pits for 45 years, he’s 87 now and I’ve just moved him closer to live near me. Today I live with my wife Philippa, who I met at Next. I have four daughters in total, ages 25, 23, 11 and 9. You could say I know a lot about women!
Favourite film? My favourite old movie is Billy Elliott as it really reflects my childhood. My favourite film that came out more recently is Green Book. The characters face one challenge after another… which seems to sum up my career!
Who are your mentors? I’ve worked with some pretty iconic retail leaders in my time… But my biggest inspiration has got to be Brian Clough – he’s a shining example of creating success out of adversity and making champions out of very normal football teams. (Richard supports Nottingham Forest!)
What do you want your legacy to be? Professionally, it’s to be seen as a consistent contributor to the UK clothing and home business. I’d love this latest turnaround at M&S to be the pinnacle of my career. Personally, it’s to have done my father proud.