The October meeting of East Markham WI saw members making initial plans for the Group Carol Service and their Christmas Party before listening to our speaker for the evening, Sue Floyd. Sue’s talk title was ‘Don’t Ask the Price, It’s a Penny’. After her family had left home, Sue started work as a part time assistant at the M&S Doncaster Outlet Store, working her way up to manage it, before moving to other areas of the company and retiring after 10 “very happy years”. After many requests, and with the help of the company, she put together a short-illustrated history of the company.
Michael Marks was a Polish Jewish refugee who came to Leeds to meet up with his brother and seek work. Having obtained a loan of £5.00 from Issac Dewhirst, a local warehouse owner, he bought small cheap items which he sold from a tinker’s tray around the poorer areas of Leeds. As he spoke very little English, he displayed a sign saying, ‘Don’t ask the Price it’s a Penny’. As he became more successful, he sought more investment and went into partnership with Thomas Spencer, the cashier from Dewhirst’s.
Sue told the group how the firm developed over the years by encompassing innovations in business, fashion and technology and expanding its ranges to meet customer demand, including the move into food. M&S were at the forefront of staff welfare, having medical and hospital schemes for employees in the 1930s, well before the introduction of the NHS in 1948. Hairdressing, manicures and holidays were among other staff benefits, sadly these are no more. The recent decline in M&S fortunes was mentioned with the view that they tried to be all things to all people and lost sight of their core customers.
Audience questions and comments were wide ranging, and there were expressions of disappointment over the withdrawal of the company from their planned Retford store and the closure of that in Worksop. Vice President Mary gave a vote of thanks for a very interesting and informative talk.
Meetings take place on the third Tuesday of the month at 7.15pm in the village hall. The next meeting is the Christmas party on 18th December. Visitors and new members are assured of a warm welcome.