June 30, 2016

Is there retail life after Brexit?

Departures (photo: alice_photo/Fotolia_80256796_S)
Farewell Britannia: Either the Brits have made a big mistake, or they have ended one
The result of last Thursday's referendum on EU membership was about as surprising as the England vs. Iceland game in the UEFA Euro 2016! But, now that a small majority (52 per cent) of UK voters has plumped for Brexit, all of Europe will have to live with the consequences. Although the decision is not binding for the government, political pressure on the successor of outgoing prime minister David Cameron will oblige him or her to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin what are likely to be acrimonious negotiations as from January 2017 with a 27-member bloc whose GDP has just shrunk by around 17 per cent. Despite fears in Brussels that protracted negotiations could fracture the Single Market still further, the conclusion of new trade agreements is likely to be long and complex. Greenland took three years to leave, but there fish was the only issue and population about that of a football stadium. The sheer complexity of the divorce will doubtless have all lawyers rubbing their well-manicured hands, but what will be the likely fallout from the Brexit bomb for retailers in the UK?
June 15, 2016

Hug a Brit and stop Brexit?

#HugABrit (photo: #HugABrit)
In the course of history, perfidious Albion has often managed to irk poor Continentals, and, as the latest opinion polls point towards Brexit, the outcome of the referendum on June 23 is likely to be no different. Given the regulatory headaches and higher labour costs that this vote would entail, it would be hard to find any major retailer or fmcg manufacturer who welcomes it. However, few have been prepared to alienate half of their customers by following Asda CEO Andy Clarke – still in a job until July 11 – in openly declaring for "Remain". Admittedly, the inflation likely to result from a big fall in sterling and the higher unemployment from a loss of business with the EU (currently amounting to 44.6 per cent of the UK's exports of goods and services) could well benefit Aldi and Lidl as Little Englanders feel the pinch in their pockets. But even for the German discounters Brexit would be a mixed chalice.
June 9, 2016

Mymuesli – A Bavarian success story

mymuesli co-founder Max Wittrock (photo: Viktor Strasse)
mymuesli co-founder Max Wittrock: "We know how to tell a story"
Had one no other reason for loving the German-speaking nations, one would simply have to do so for their giving the world muesli (granola) and brightening up our breakfast tables. Strangely, muesli once had a Cinderella existence on German supermarket shelves. Its potential as a category clearly hadn't been recognised. Consumers either made it themselves or munched American cornflakes. Like most foods, muesli has a lot to do with culture and Zeitgeist. It was first discovered by the student generation in the 1960s and 1970s, so it was long deemed the province of long-haired hippies playing folk guitars and practicing free love. This delicious food only really became mainstream in the 1980s and 1990s when the manager generation gradually recognised its nutrient qualities. So instead of schnapps and black coffee, they now give themselves a vitamin rush to power away the day on. Since then we have obviously experienced the digital revolution, so what could be more logical than to order muesli on the internet?
June 9, 2016

Jürgen Schröcker makes retailers fit & sexy

It's just like sex (photo: Hornbach)
During a very successful career as Chief Marketing & Personnel Officer, Jürgen Schröcker forged an edgy corporate image at arch-conservative DIY group Hornbach until he left to become a management consultant in 2013. One could make out a very good case for a pre- and a post-Schröcker era in German DIY advertising. Prior to his brilliant work, targeting the so-called project customer at Hornbach, DIY advertising was generally deadly boring and very predictable. Post Schröcker it almost has cult status.
May 31, 2016

Schwarz Group surges relentlessly forward

Speedometer (photo: Björn Wylezich/Fotolia)
Flashing its lights for the guy ahead to get out of the way, Schwarz Group continues to thunder down the fast lane of the international retail autobahn like a Porsche Cayenne. The secretive Swabian parent of small- and big-box discounters Lidl and Kaufland now looks almost unstoppable on its route to world domination. Meanwhile, the sober clique around elusive founder Dieter Schwarz at head office in Neckarsulm must be almost drunk with success. Exaggerating? Just look at the needle on the speedometer, dear reader, you'll find the latest figures exhilarating...
May 20, 2016

German CEO Ralf Kleber talks Amazon

Amazon Germany CEO Ralf Kleber (photo: Hans-Rudolf Schulz)
Ralf Kleber: "We deliver the answer"
Amazon managers don't give many interviews. Like Facebook, Google and other US online giants, Amazon wants to know everything about us customers, but isn't so keen on total transparency the other way around. Perhaps this is because the $100bn-revenue, Seattle-based company has learned that there is a downside to becoming increasingly omnipresent in the lives of consumers, providing the online customer with books, music, films, dry goods and, increasingly, fresh produce. Tax authorities lour over your every domicile; EU bureaucrats and US presidential candidates attack you for being monopolistic; and you become a prey to lobbyists.
May 12, 2016

Amazon Prime delivers fresh food in Berlin

Amazon Fresh delivery bike at the Potsdamer Platz wall (photo: Amazon)
Meals on wheels
First we take Manhattan and then Berlin? Or was it Seattle? At any rate, the US online retail giant began delivering fresh food this week in the German capital with its 3.5 million inhabitants. For an annual fee of €49 Amazon Prime customers can choose from a programme of around 20,000 lines, ranging from batteries to high-definition TVs. This includes an initial assortment of over 4,700 food & drink items with more than 100 deep frozen and 200 dairy products as well as around 60 fruit & veg lines. This week's move provides a clear indication that Amazon intends to intensify its competition with local retailers. Grocers beware?
April 22, 2016

Schwarz Group is Europe's Mr Big Spender

Shirley Bassey (photo: By Nyctc7 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Will Shirley Bassey now shop at Lidl?
It is not known whether Dame Shirley Bassey is still looking for a big spender at the age of 79. But, if so, the lady can certainly find one with German retailer Schwarz-Gruppe (Schwarz Group) whose spending has now reached record levels. Last year, the owner of discount subsidiary Lidl and its XXL-sized brother Kaufland invested a whopping €5bn. This impressive sum was essentially used to upgrade and expand the store base in Germany and Europe. That was considerably more cash than the annual investment of major rivals Edeka, Rewe and Metro Group put together. It also easily beats that of other national market leaders in Europe such as Carrefour in France, Ahold in the Netherlands, Migros in Switzerland or Tesco in the UK. Admittedly, the capital expenditure (capex) of US giant Walmart was more than twice as high last year (€10.2bn). But, if you put capex in relation to net revenues for both companies, then our slide rule gives Schwarz Group 6.3 per cent against only 2.4 per cent for Walmart. In fact, our thrifty Swabians topped the international league of all the grocery multiples we reviewed (cf. chart below).
April 8, 2016

The ladies conquer Aldi – at last

Aldi Süd models on the catwalk (photo: Heimifoto/L. Heimrath)
Blue Motion: Jette Joop turns an Aldi store in Düsseldorf into a catwalk
Is this really the Aldi we thought we knew? For the first time in its history Aldi Süd (Aldi South) has used a fashion show to present a new clothing range. The ladies' spring collection, created by star designer Jette Joop, will be available at and add a touch of glamour to all the German discounter's stores as from Monday under the "Blue Motion" own label. Using the motto "Gutes Design muss nicht teuer sein" (Good Design Doesn't Have to Be Expensive), the range was celebrated with great razzamatazz this week at Aldi's flagship store on Königsallee, a chichi shopping street in Düsseldorf. What a change to the usual no-frills presentation of clothing in wire bargain bins! In a further break with tradition, customers were turned away after midday in order to transform the store into a catwalk. This will have the old guard at Aldi rolling in their graves. But could it be that Aldi Süd is starting to get sexy in its mid-50s?
April 7, 2016

What Metro could learn from Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix (photo: Dieter Klar/dpa-Bildarchiv)
Jimi Hendrix: "Castles made of sand"
It was only Wednesday last week that German retail giant Metro Group announced its intention to split into two by mid-2017. Its Metro Cash & Carry and "real,-" hypermarket subsidiaries, representing around two-thirds of annual group revenues (€58bn) in 2014/15, are to be spun off in an independent unit which will seek a separate listing. Meanwhile, electronics retailer Media-Saturn will stay part of the Metro Group. The news of the demerger upped the share price by more than 12 per cent on the day, providing a welcome fillip for long-suffering shareholders. Since then analysts in the City of London have bombarded their clients with research papers containing likely scenarios for the future. Clearly the financial community are suckers for any kind of story – much as wide-eyed children are entranced by thimble riggers at a funfair. Perhaps, though, these highly-paid experts, who pride themselves on the sophistication of their valuation techniques, should take a more sober view of future prospects. However parent company Metro may repackage its progeny, the new entities will not suddenly become something totally different.