October 17, 2013

Talk with Dixons chairman John Allan

John Allan, Chairman Dixons (photo: Thomas Fedra)
John Allan: "Multi-channel is a superior model" (photo: Thomas Fedra)
He's only been there four years, but John Allan is already the longest-serving person on the board – such are the fast-moving times at Dixons Retail Plc group. But his tenure as Chairman has certainly seen a hefty improvement (+80 per cent) in the share price, during which time the Hemel Hempstead-based retailer has seen off an attempt by US giant Best Buy to muscle onto its turf. Today, with over 20 per cent of the UK market, Dixons leads the pack among consumer & entertainment electronics specialists. The Brits also dominate their segment in Scandinavia and Greece where they compete with arch-rival Media-Markt. So this pleasant and courteous Englishman, who has just turned 65, could be forgiven if he rested on his laurels. But that's hard to do when you have Amazon on your back.
October 4, 2013

Facundo Bacardi talks rum and martini

Bacardi rum with lime (photo: Goami/iStock by Getty)
Brand with a history: This one won't be for Fidel Castro (photo: Goami/iStock by Getty)
An invitation to Martini's 150th anniversary party in Villa Erba on Lake Como is like a proposition made to one in a dream. Immediately one's imagination conjures up the fellow Brit who prefers his favourite drink 'shaken, not stirred'. And didn't that other testimonial George Clooney (female readers take note) once live on the waterfront? Combine this with the chance to interview parent company chairman Facundo L. Bacardi and you have a perfect alibi to escape the office. The extremely discrete Bacardi family, living as los históricos exiles from Cuba after Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959, seldom talks to the press. The Bermuda-based group doesn't even publish earnings figures, but annual revenues are estimated at around $9.7bn. This puts it in the big league with global spirits rivals Diageo and Pernod Ricard. On the day, the corporate PR team officially granted 'only five minutes' with the mild-mannered chairman, who is believed to be 46. In the event, we got quite a lot more from him and, in the person of Bacardi European President Stefan Bomhard, a rum chaser to boot...
September 27, 2013

Bullying at Aldi

Aldi store facade (photo: Hans-Jürgen Schulz)
Aldi: Its stores look increasingly modern, but how attractive are they for young jobseekers? (photo: Hans-Jürgen Schulz)
The recent coming to light of the humiliation of young trainees at an Aldi distribution centre in Baden-Württemberg last year gives pause for thought. A report in German magazine “Spiegel” claims that victims were tied up with cling foil and had their faces painted with a felt-tip pen, but were too scared to report the matter because they were worried about losing their jobs. Such allegations cast a lurid light; but could they also harm the German discount giant’s long-term competitive position? An otherwise taciturn Aldi has reacted professionally and issued a statement confirming the allegations: "We are perturbed that internal enquiries have revealed that the event described is essentially true."
September 20, 2013

Kingfisher plans German entry

Kingfisher CEO Ian Cheshire (photo: WRC)
Looking east: Kingfisher CEO Ian Cheshire wants to try his luck in Germany and beyond (photo: WRC)
Have the Brits gone mad? Kingfisher, the world's third-largest DIY operator, wants to return to Germany and open four "Screwfix" outlets next year. Such a move is not for the fainthearted. The list of top international retailers who have wrecked their ship on the rocks of Europe's richest, but most price-sensitive country is dauntingly long. These have included French DIY specialist Castorama and US-operator Wickes. So are fools rushing in, or does Chief Group Executive Ian Cheshire know some safe and cunning course at the helm? And, as both companies vie for influence in Eastern Europe, what is to become of Kingfisher's partnership (25 per cent since 2001) with local hero Hornbach?
September 12, 2013

Rewe ends Coopernic alliance with Leclerc

Michel-Édouard Leclerc & Alain Caparros (photo: Anna-Maria Romanelli)
French connection: Michel-Édouard Leclerc and Rewe boss Alain Caparros were once big pals (photo: Anna-Maria Romanelli)
Oh, là là, quelle affaire! Here we have two prominent retailer personalities who have vied to outdo each other in reciprocal praise for years. In numerous joint photo sessions and interviews the two Frenchmen have sworn personal allegiance and talked male bonding and elective affinities. But all this chumminess has ended in tears for Michel-Édouard Leclerc, debonair President of French retailer co-operative E. Leclerc, and Alain Caparros, the sultry and flamboyant CEO of Germany's second-largest food retailer Rewe Group. They have fallen out over Coopernic, the European alliance of independent retailers and the very organisation that brought them together. The news hit like a bombshell last Friday. Leclerc’s four European partners want to leave Brussels-based buying group Coopernic by the end of the year. Rewe, Belgian retailer Colruyt, Coop Schweiz (CH) and Italian co-operative Conad intend to create a new joint company in Brussels – without their former buddy Leclerc.
September 6, 2013

Metro's Frans Muller joins Delhaize

Delhaize CEO in spe Frans Muller (photo: Georg Lukas)
Smile for the camera: Can Dutchman Frans Muller keep his grin in Brussels? (photo: Georg Lukas)
At first blush it looks a bold and exciting move: Former Metro Group Cash & Carry board member Frans Muller is to become CEO of Belgian food retailer Delhaize as from November 8. By any account the 52-year-old Dutchman is an impressive manager with an excellent reputation in the trade and a cosmopolitan outlook. Past interviews with this newspaper reveal his detailed knowledge of stores and assortments. Muller, who left Metro's troubled C&C division in March, has long survived as a foreign executive at Germany's largest retail/wholesale group. Responsibility for up to 30 countries have given him tremendous insight into managing complex international portfolios. Yet his appointment as successor to Pierre-Olivier Beckers has been criticised by some. So perhaps it could all end in tears, but for none of the reasons given.
August 30, 2013

Tesco.com inspires Rewe

Rewe CEO, Alain Caparros (photo: Mario Vedder)
Cyber prayer: Rewe CEO Alain Caparros is still looking for the promised online land (photo: Mario Vedder)
True to form, flamboyant and sultry Alain Caparros did not scruple to employ his coquettish charm to make a disarmingly forthright speech at the Hessischer Handelstag (Hessian Retail Day) in Wiesbaden this Tuesday. The CEO of Rewe Group, Germany’s second-largest bricks & mortar food retailer, admitted to mixed feelings about "embarking on the adventure that is online retailing". But the charismatic Frenchman clearly feels obliged to give "clicks" another push for strategic reasons. Or why else would he have recruited former Tesco.com manager Jean-Jacques van Oosten? "We are bringing in the best people on the market," says Caparros who has appointed van Oosten Chief Digital Officer as from December 1.
August 23, 2013

End of the mega malls

Skyline Plaza mall in Frankfurt (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Lucrative investment or retail dinosaur: Frankfurt's new Skyline Plaza shopping centre could be one of the last of a dying breed in Germany (photo: Thomas Fedra)
On Wednesday, 29th August German property developer ECE will open the Skyline Plaza with 170 shops - a stone's throw away from our editorial offices here in Frankfurt. High commercial real estate prices, ever fewer suitable sites and a boom in e-commerce could make this one of the last big shopping centres to be built in Germany. So is Skyline Plaza just another investment project, or will its fate reflect the deep structural changes underway in modern retailing? The European Retail Institute (EHI) duly records that the nine shopping centres opened in Germany last year had relatively small rental spaces of 10,000 to 30,000 square metres. But ECE boss Alexander Otto also sees potential in larger sites. "The more space there is, the quicker one can react to new trends and find space for an exciting store concept."
August 16, 2013

UK grocers reimagine their Big Boxes

Harris+Hoole (photo: Tesco)
Retail destination: A Harris+Hoole coffee shop forms part of Tesco Extra's revitalised gastronomic offer in Watford (photo: Tesco)
Leading UK retailers are again in the news as they continue to downsize or reassign non-food space in their out-of-town hypermarkets. Mirroring the problems of Wickes and B&Q in the DIY sector, Walmart subsidiary Asda has recently announced plans to use excess store space for communal purposes. And on Monday Tesco officially unveiled a refurbished “Extra” outlet in Watford, near London, showcasing its new ideas on space usage. Clearly the market leader is prepared to move beyond its core competence in food to meet space issues and to enhance its credentials as a retail destination. But isn’t the whole exercise also clever PR spin in advance of eventual closures? And what relevance does it have for continental European retailers?
August 13, 2013

French farmers smash their eggs

Eggs (photo: acht&siebzig/flickr.com)
Eat them or break them? (photo: acht&siebzig/flickr.com)
In a primaeval revolt against order masked farmers in north-west France began a Dionysian orgy of egg-smashing last week. 100,000 eggs a day have already been dumped outside a Lidl discount store, government offices and village squares around Brittany. Local residents were left with the rotting mass and a hefty clean-up bill on the rates. So the activists have railed against the laws of supply & demand and pulled off a spectacular PR stunt. Doubtless they are now also patting themselves on the back and treating themselves to a Calvados and a Gauloises blonde. But will they reap where they sow?