STUART Rose, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, was in Basingstoke yesterday to launch the retail giant's new-look store after an investment of nearly £8million.

The launch marked a positive move for Mr Rose, whose visit came just two days after the national retailer announced reduced interim profits of £292million, followed by news of a board shake-up.

He said: "The Basingstoke store provides an exciting new shopping environment for our customers.

"It has been completely redesigned so that it is easier to shop and the products really stand out.

"What customers tell us about their experience here will help us decide how we change our stores elsewhere."

Basingstoke is now a key location for M&S, with Festival Place recently rocketing from 91st to 10th place in the national league of shopping centres.

The transformed store has been extended by 12,000sqft to 48,000sqft, housing a more extensive range of merchandise for the borough's shoppers.

It is one of only four in the country to be chosen by M&S for a complete makeover and was the first to reopen, after being closed since last Saturday. The other stores are Edgeware Road in London, Shoreham in Brighton and Sutton Coldfield.

Shoppers in Basingstoke yesterday morning had their first chance to see the completed building, with its new layout, signage and displays.

The launch coincided with the day that the town switched on its Christmas lights, and, with the festive season on its way, M&S has been stocked with a full range of seasonal products.

The company has made a huge investment in Basingstoke - and not just with the cost of extending and refurbishing. It has also boosted the local economy with the creation of 100 new permanent jobs.

Stuart Lewis, Basingstoke's store manager, said: "We are delighted to be creating a bigger and better store for our shoppers.

"By redesigning and extending, we will have a fantastic environment that will allow us to offer a greatly-increased range of Marks & Spencer products.

"We would like to thank our customers for their patience during the short period of closure that was necessary to enable us to complete the work."

The management team of Festival Place welcomed the upgrading of the Basingstoke store.

Jane Stewart, marketing manager, said: "By investing more than £7million in Basingstoke, Marks & Spencer has created an amazing store for Festival Place which reinforces our current position as Hampshire's premier shopping destination."

A brand-new 40-seater Caf Revive is included in the redevelopment of the store, which boasts a new food hall in the basement, with clothing, home and beauty products covering the ground and first floors.

A wider range of women's fashion will include more from the per una selection and the introduction of Limited Collection for the first time.

Menswear includes the Blue Harbour Village and Sp. ranges and the childrenswear choice has been increased by 50 per cent.

The new-look store also has 12 changing rooms, including four dedicated to lingerie.

The only part of the new-look M&S that today's shoppers will recognise is the food hall, which opened at the end of September.

See next Friday's Gazette Business for Liz Woodford's exclusive interview with Stuart Rose.