March 9, 2017

Aldi gets serious about Italy

A for Aldi (photo: Grafvision/Fotolia)
P is for pasta, A is for Aldi
Mamma mia! Fruitbook Magazine has actually flown over Aldi's first distribution centre in Italy and shot some photos. The site in Oppeano, 20km from the centre of Verona, is still under construction. But, as the picture taken in mid-February below shows, the German discount giant is well on the way to setting up shop in Venetia. One real estate developer tells us that Aldi is already searching for another DC of around 60,000m² to the south of Milan. Luigi Rubinelli, managing editor of RetailWatch, believes this could be in the vicinity of Piacenza. He also says that Aldi has just signed the lease on a first store in Merano. True to form, Hofer, Aldi South's Austrian subsidiary responsible for group expansion in bella Italia, remains tight-lipped. This gives free rein to speculation on how big the company wants to become south of the Alps. So what have we been able to piece together for our readers so far?
March 9, 2017

Kaufland nears entry in Australia

Crocodile Dundee hat (photo: Richard Peterson/shutterstock)
Will Kaufland stock Crocodile Dundee hats when it comes to Australia?
"Strewth, cobber, another one's coming!" This, or similar, could be the reaction of Crocodile Dundee on hearing that German discounter Kaufland will be arriving soon in Oz. The Schwarz Group subsidiary and Lidl sister company has confirmed that a feasibility study on market entry has "already made considerable progress" but refrains from giving a specific starting date. The low-profile retail giant, with 1,230 compact hypermarkets in Germany and six Central & Eastern European countries, needn't be so coy, however. An increasing number of its top brass have been seen returning from Australia with a suntan of late, and we are happy to reveal that the corporate HQ will be in Melbourne. A glance at Kaufland Australia's new website (www.kaufland.com.au) confirms that they are already actively recruiting for a "letting manager". The company is also searching for locations with a minimum plot of 10,000m² and a preferred size of 15,000m²-20,000m², including 200 to 300 parking spaces. Want to know more?
March 1, 2017

Aldi cyberises logo prior to China online entry

Aldis new logo (photo: Aldi Süd)
Sign of the times: Out with the old and in with the Asian online new
Women can fascinate by changing the way they look every day, if they so please, but big retailers are under a different set of constraints. Tinkering with the corporate logo can be a dangerous game because customers generally expect consistency from their local shop. Small wonder then that grocers generally opt for a conservative approach when it comes to design and optics. In the past, few retailers were more conservative than Aldi Süd (Aldi South), but the German discount giant has become noticeably more adventurous on its home market over the last two or three years. The new buzz is multifacetted and can be seen, for instance, in plans for an online shop in the People's Republic of China this spring. Soon shoppers in Old Europe, Donald Trump country, and Oz will also be greeted by a company sign worthy of our exciting new cyber age.
February 16, 2017

Lidl plans first US store in Virginia this summer

Kickstarter in the US (photo: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock)
Kickstart: Will Lidl speed growth in the US with an acquisition?
It is doubtful whether Donald Trump knows Lidl, and it is unlikely that Melania or Ivanka will ever go shopping in one of its no-frills stores. But, if the US president-in-tweet really means what he says about American jobs and putting more spending money in the pocket of the Average Joe, then he should be one of the very first to welcome the German discounter. We now know that Lidl will enter the US this summer, at least six months ahead of schedule. Twenty stores are planned for Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina in a first wave and up to 100 outlets across the East Coast by mid-2018. This will create around 4,000 new jobs over the same period. That's quite a bold start, but it took arch-rival Aldi 40 years to become even America's 20th-largest retailer. So, if Lidl doesn't want to wait most of this century before it joins the US big league, could the company go an a buying spree?
February 3, 2017

Metro trades retail for portfolio management

Metro Group -- a portfolio manager masquerading as a retailer (photo: Andrey Kiselev-Fotolia)
Metro Group: Run by a succession of portfolio managers masquerading as retailers
Next Monday the long-suffering shareholders of Metro Group will be asked to rubber-stamp management plans to split the German retail giant into two separate public limited companies. Weird-sounding "Ceconomy AG" will then soon house Europe's largest entertainment electronics retailer, Media-Saturn, while niftily-named "Metro Wholesale and Food Specialist Company" will combine Europe's leading wholesaler, Metro Cash & Carry, and "real,-", Germany’s largest Big Box retailer by sales. If one harkens to the siren song of Metro Group CEO Olaf Koch, international investors will soon be able to participate in an exciting international growth story: "We are now bringing two strong, successful and strategically-focused companies to the start(ing block)." Is this really the case, or is the financial community being sold another round of snake oil?
January 12, 2017

Metro and the art of the magical balance sheet

Magic hat I (photo: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock)
Goodwill: Now you see it, now you don't
Chief Executive Officer Olaf Koch likes to joke about his surname when discussing plans to split German retail giant Metro Group into two separate entities by mid-2017. Koch means 'cook' in German, so the pleasantry is moderately witty in his home country, however fatal it would be in English-speaking business circles. So, all things considered, perhaps 'magician' would be the better word to use. After all, a man who can make nearly €580m in goodwill disappear off a corporate balance sheet in a perfectly legal way is little less than a financial wizard.
January 7, 2017

Lidl is right in black or white

Lidl advertising brochure (photo: screenshot of Lidl's website by Lebensmittel Zeitung)
Lidl's Czech model: "Black as my own face" (Othello)
Over the last seven years, this satirical column has been particularly critical of Lidl and its parent company Schwarz Group. Along with some trade unionists and NGOs, German Retail Blog has often questioned the ethics of this low-profile German discount giant. The company has been termed "ruthless", "hard-nosed" or "redneck" and its management "macho". Doubt has also been cast on an internal decision to burnish corporate morals. Even a recent move by the c-suite towards a less formal management culture has been teased without mercy. But an apology is now called for: Lidl has proved that a leopard can change its spots. How did this conversion of Saul to Paul on the journalist road to Damascus come about? A threat of legal action? A chummy lunch with the publisher? The promise of a job in the press department? No, Lidl has revealed its moral integrity through the eloquence of action.
January 6, 2017

German retailers await Amazon Fresh in 2017

Medieval warrior with chain mail armour (photo: guerrieroale_Fotolia)
Ready for the challenge?
Flood the moat, raise the drawbridge, lower the portcullis! The robber barons of German retailing are making ready to protect their lands and traditional fiefdoms from the relentless advance of a foreign army carrying the banners of 'Prime Now' and 'Amazon Fresh'. For years German retailers have tried to withstand the strong arm of progress. Customers with credit cards were turned away at the tills; private equity was met with vinculated shares; and CEOs continued to exercise feudal rights over their serfs. But these bastions have slowly crumbled. To date they have at least been successful in keeping online food delivery to a mere 1 per cent of the trade. So will their castles be able to withstand the coming siege? Admittedly, these knights in shining armour are brave and ready to die for the cause of bricks & mortar, but will this help them when the invader has gunpowder?
December 27, 2016

Retail pundits predict 2017 and beyond

Trade pundits predict 2015 and beyond
In ancient times when the priestess Pythia presided over the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, interpreting the future was big business. Little has changed since then; we just call our soothsayers consultants. Then, as now, we urgently need to demythologise the often sibylline answers today's highly-paid experts give to the overhyped mystery of things to come. The best way to predict the future is, of course, to make it yourself. The next best thing is to interpret what the movers and shakers are doing as the minnows will usually follow the Tritons. In retrospect, the future may have looked unfathomable to most contemporaries, but often turns out to be little more than a continuation of existing trends that should have been glaringly obvious to all concerned at the time. So perhaps we should look at what is in order to know what will be. But do the trade gurus we have asked to ponder the future agree?
December 22, 2016

A Christmas look at retailing in NYC and Europe

A Christmas drone (caricature: Oliver Sebel)
Santa goes cyber
In case you hadn't noticed, it's nearly Christmas and surely a time to be a little less formal. One of the pleasures of being a journalist is the broad variety of people you get to meet. These range from bolshie trade unionists, blowing whistles and ranting about the evils of private equity, to sleek, narcissistic CEOs. Fortunately, there are positive exceptions in both categories. One also has one's colleagues, who, as with most publications, include a remarkable number of eccentrics. Then there are some infectiously enthusiastic stringers, like Werner Prill and Christian Lattmann, who have just returned from whistle-stop store tours in New York City viz. Europe. Both were astonished that we wanted to put their photos online as neither of them claims to be a professional photographer, but in our opinion the odd shaky or underdeveloped picture makes for authenticity. Want to have a peek?