November 10, 2016
Get soft, now!
There has been a sudden disappearance of ties within the ranks of German discount retailer Aldi. "Our company is open to the world," says one manager by way of explanation. After all, when a retailer constantly modernises its stores and operations, why not trendy-up the appearance of your staff? This will surely also make one seem more attractive as a potential employer to a rapidly declining number of young job seekers. The move, however, is far more revolutionary than it sounds because perfect ties have always been part of the uniform for men at Aldi. "They even used to keep them on in Australia when it was 40 degrees Celsius," says one astonished supplier.
November 10, 2016
In God we trust
Times have just got a lot tougher for Latinos, Muslims, Blacks and all women who don't look like Barbie dolls. Perhaps they will appear better to unemployed steelworkers in the Rust Belt if they seriously believe that a billionaire businessman, happy to use cheap labour and Chinese steel, is really their best friend. But times certainly look good for manspreading Russian premier Vladimir Putin. So perhaps we shall soon be treated to photos of two middle-aged men with arresting hairstyles riding bare-chested on a stallion or in judo gear. As the media debate 'Trumponomics' and the moods of the man the world's most powerful nation intends to entrust with the nuclear attack code, may we ask whether president-elect Donald Trump will be good or bad for German retailers?
November 3, 2016
Saving in Asia: Aldi wants to make a cultural contribution
Nín hǎo, Aldi, a nation of savers awaits you! Germany's most profitable discounter is opening an online shop in the People's Republic of China. The privately-run company is using Australian subsidiary, Aldi Stores, as a springboard for entry. A number of Australian suppliers have apparently already been briefed on the packaging and labelling requirements for www.aldi.cn. The domain name was secured by the Mülheim-based retail giant a number of years ago and now bears the strapline "Handpicked for you". So when can more than 415 million Chinese online customers ignite their firecrackers and perform the dragon dance?
September 29, 2016
Transatlantic anniversary: HBC boss Jerry Storch and Kaufhof CEO Olivier Van den Bossche (second and third from the left)
Take a retail segment in terminal decline on a mature market; add a structural crisis in the inner cities; mix it with some local mismanagement; add a dash of dubious international investment; and what have you got?: the tragicomic world of the German department store. It was therefore with mixed feelings when one learned exactly a year ago to this day that Canada's leading department store operator Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) had purchased Metro Group's unloved daughter Galeria Kaufhof for €2.9bn, including debt. After all, the German trade had only recently experienced Nicolas Berggruen's bizarre and fateful purchase of rival Karstadt. And the last 20 years bear witness to a string of failed foreign investors from Walmart to Marks & Spencer. It seemed at the time as if HBC was dashing into the abyss like a troop of Canadian Mounties in a snowstorm. Twelve months later, our newspaper received a formal invitation to brunch at Galeria Kaufhof head office in Cologne. The principal hosts were Gerald (Jerry) L. Storch, CEO of HBC, and Kaufhof boss Olivier Van den Bossche. Was it all to announce a happy first anniversary, or a rapid return flight to the other side of the Pond?
September 15, 2016
May we draw your attention to a new publication entitled "The E-Commerce Book – About a Channel that Became an Industry"? Our company, dfv Media Group, may be the largest independent trade publisher in Europe, but its emphasis is essentially on over 90 B2B magazines and newspapers such as Lebensmittel Zeitung. Dfv Media Group's book publishing arm is relatively small and, like many international competitors, has to survive in an increasingly online world. If young managers read at all, they are more likely to use an e-book or a tablet. But our book publishers and its authors are obviously also German and must strive in a business world dominated by the English language and a lack of natural contacts with English-speaking distribution partners. Despite these structural issues, it is a pleasure to see how our book publishing colleagues use both flair and initiative to turn such obvious disadvantages into opportunities and to punch above their weight. One such project, supervised by senior manager Caroline Schauwienold, represents an updated and considerably extended English version of the German trade bestseller 'Das E-Commerce-Buch' by Alexander Graf and Professor Holger Schneider.
August 18, 2016
Pedro Pereira da Silva: "We see no constraints on the opening of new stores throughout Russia"
Pedro Pereira da Silva has been the frontman of Dixy Group for just over five months now. At first blush, the former CEO of leading Polish grocer Biedronka and COO of Lisbon-based parent Jerónimo Martins is a pretty unlikely candidate to run Russia's fourth-largest retailer. After all, the 48-year-old manager is Portuguese and only a year ago couldn't speak a word of Russian. So he made a big career gamble on an Uncle Vlad Russia hit by EU sanctions in an economic recession. But what looks like madness has, on closer investigation, method. When the owners of Dixy, including Russian billionaire Igor Kesaev, poached da Silva from his former employers at the beginning of March, his retail credentials were sparkling. During a 16-year stint at Biedronka, he transformed the discounter into a vibrant market leader. Success counts the world over, but nowhere more so than with the pragmatic, yet highly-imaginative Russians. Now they've got him, though, where does da Silva want to take them?
August 4, 2016
Confident in a crisis: Haluk Dortluoğlu masterminded BIM supermarket subsidiary FILE
After the failed coup d'état by disaffected members of the military on July 15, Turkey remains on edge with thousands of its citizens still in detention. In the wake of terror attacks since March 2015 and tensions with Russia, the Turkish lira had already fallen by nearly 10 per cent against the euro and to a record low against the dollar. As more rating agencies prepare to downgrade the republic's creditworthiness, international investors look on with a wary eye. In view of the fact that there were tanks on the streets just a few weeks ago, it was brave of Haluk Dortluoğlu to give an interview. The executive committee member and CFO of leading grocer BIM clearly believes that modern self-service retailers still have strong growth prospects in what has been a dynamic threshold economy.
July 28, 2016
Married at last: After a 13-month wait for cartel office approval on both sides of the Atlantic, Ahold Delhaize celebrates its début on the Euronext exchange in Amsterdam this Monday
Perhaps Ahold Delhaize were guided by the spirit of the English saying: "One for a wish, Two for a kiss, Three for a letter..."? But, whatever the motivation, on the very first workday after leading Dutch grocer Ahold and number two Belgian retailer Delhaize merged last weekend, they sent a "welcome letter" to their top 100 suppliers in the Benelux expressing a heartfelt desire for "a good future relationship". In the brutal cut and thrust of modern-day business this kind of thing can only bring tears to one's eyes. After all, love between retailers and manufacturers is as beautiful as it is rare. Doubtless, however, all was in a good cause. For how else could this new retail giant give expression to its joy now that it posts around €63bn in annual sales in a total of eleven countries, including Germany and, somewhat improbably, Indonesia? Like children clinging to the hope of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, trusting food producers and fmcg manufacturers would want to believe that the celebratory letter-writing exercise was motivated by a deep spirit of altruism and brotherly love. But a bad grown-up in the shape of Bernstein has shattered this belief for ever.
June 30, 2016
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
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.