Marks & Spencer has bought a stake in one of its international franchisees as part of plans to open 50 new stores in the Balkan states and Switzerland over the next few years.

The retailer has bought 50% of existing joint venture partner Marks & Spencer Marinopoulos BV, which operates stores for the retailer in Greece and other markets, for £38m to lead the expansion.

The deal fits in with Marks & Spencer’s plans to invest in its existing franchise partners to grow its international business to represent up to 20% of the group’s revenues within the next five years.

Marinopoulos, which has been a partner of Marks & Spencer in markets like Greece, Romania and Switzerland for 30 years, also has rights to operate in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro, where currently there are no Marks & Spencer stores.

Carl Leaver, director of international business at Marks & Spencer, said: ‘We have an exciting opportunity to open many more Marks & Spencer stores in Greece and the Balkans and our joint venture with Marinopoulos will mean we can really put M&S on the map in this part of the world.’