March 29, 2012

New Metro CEO Olaf Koch offers culture change

Olaf Koch, Metro CEO (photo: Metro Group)
Olaf Koch: "We don't want a top-down culture anymore"
Can it be that we now have a down to earth, non-arrogant boss at Metro Group? New CEO Olaf Koch certainly wants to revolutionise corporate ethos. The 41-year-old former IT expert will need to act fast though if Germany's largest retailer/wholesaler by sales is not to be pushed down the ranking ladder by rival Schwarz-Gruppe (Schwarz Group) this year. Already in 2011, Dusseldorf-based Metro Group posted annual revenues of €66.7bn compared with around €64bn at Schwarz Group. This is surprising because Metro holds a number of trump cards. As a plc it is able to tap the capital markets more easily; the group can diversify risk and seize chances across a broad store portfolio; and its main cash & carry division is not highly capital-intensive and spans both stable western European markets and higher-growth ones in eastern Europe and Asia. Regrettably, however, Metro has been embroiled in family squabbles among shareholders and top management, resulting in a 40 per cent decline in the share price last year.
March 22, 2012

German retail top dogs

Dennree (photo: Dennree)
Biggest gainer: Natural & organic supermarket operator Dennree grew faster last year than any other German retailer
Who were the winners and losers in German food retailing in 2011? A glance at Lebensmittel Zeitung's Top 30 ranking list, compiled by market research company TradeDimensions, reveals all. One thing is for sure, Germany is currently an Isle of the Blessed for local retailers who have not had to contend with the severe recessionary problems of their European counterparts. Last year, Germany's food retail universe increased by 1.8 per cent to a whopping €228bn. This may represent a decline in the growth rate compared with 2010 (+2.3 per cent), but it is still the second positive year in succession. Already high concentration levels continued to increase slightly. The Top 30 players now make up 97.5 per cent of the total market, and smaller operators such as Ratio have disappeared from the ranking altogether.
March 16, 2012

Adieu Carrefour CEO Lars Olofsson

Lars Olofsson, CEO Carrefour (photo: Carrefour)
Lars Olofsson: "I think it better to leave the answer to your question to the new team"
Departing CEO & Chairman Lars Olofsson was gently licked by retail analysts and financial journalists in Paris last week following his presentation of the Carrefour's annual results for 2011. Despite a 13.6 per cent reduction in net debt to €6.9bn, and above-target cumulative cost savings of €1.5bn, they should have savaged him like pit bulls. After five (!) profit warnings last year, ebitda at the French retail giant declined 11.3 per cent to €3.9bn. Net income "affected by significant one-off elements" fell by 14.3 per cent to €371m. Meanwhile net sales remained virtually stagnant at €81.3bn (plus 0.9 per cent). Ominously, Olofsson attributed these figures to “external and internal problems”.
March 9, 2012

Walmart ante portas

Juan Roig, CEO Mercadona (photo: Mercadona)
Mercadona CEO Juan Roig: Is he being courted by Walmart?
Sometimes it is hard to believe one’s own research or what informants are telling you: Walmart would seem to be actively negotiating a return to Western Europe. According to reliable and independent sources, the world’s largest retailer by sales is in talks with Spain’s leading retailer Mercadona as well as with Italy’s foremost hypermarket operator Esselunga. One also hesitates to print, when Mercadona’s head of press denies the above (“You are barking up the wrong tree.”), Walmart, as usual, refuses to comment, and no answer has been received from Esselunga to date. As, furthermore, Lebensmittel Zeitung’s sources do not wish to be named, it is only possible to assess how probable the above story might, or might not be, and to explore the potential logic behind any such discussions.
March 9, 2012

UEFA Euro 2012 opens up Ukraine retailing

UEFA Euro 2012 Ukraine (photo: LZ-Archiv)
Symbol of hope: Not just retailers stand to benefit from the Ukraine co-hosting UEFA Euro 2012
For some in the Ukraine, football is not just "the beautiful game". In a country which limits the right of its own citizens to travel to the West, but allows its oligarchs an insolent and oppressive liberty, co-hosting UEFA Euro 2012 surely means something more than increased retail sales. UEFA does not only lighten the daily load and the hearts of the common people; it is also the chance to open both markets and minds towards new possibilities of the human spirit. Lebensmittel Zeitung asked three experts intimately connected with this facinating country to what extent this year's soccer could change the climate for retail investors. Foxtrot CEO Uwe Klenk, Rewe International Board Member Janusz Kulik, and management consultant Peter Györffy are western pioneers who remain committed to growing their businesses there.
March 9, 2012

Biedronka CEO Pedro da Silva talks Polish retail

Folder football cover (photo: Biedronka)
Top of the league: Biedronka is official sponsor of the Polish national football team
Although he chooses in an interview with Lebensmittel Zeitung to downplay Biedronka's role in the forthcoming UEFA championship, Pedro Pereira da Silva, COO of Portuguese parent company Jerónimo Martins, is a clever tactician. As official sponsor of the Polish national football team, Biedronka not only underlines its market leadership with over 1,900 outlets throughout the country. This also makes the discounter seem more Polish than the Poles themselves. One could think of no better way to enhance one's imae and celebrate the tremendous identity the company has forged with the interests and emotional needs of local customers. Jerónimo Martins Chairman Alexandre Soares dos Santos has already revealed some of the secrets behind the Lisbon-based family company's improbable success in a far-away country. For instance, Portuguese managers assigned to Biedronka are required to take their families with them and are obliged to stay in Poland at weekends. So there is none of this "how-can-we-jet-away-as-quickly-as-possible-from-this-place" attitude too frequently witnessed among managers at many other international retailers.
March 1, 2012

Albert Heijn plans German convenience stores

AH to go (photo: Ahold)
AH to go: Let's hope the Germans like sandwiches
Dick Boer could have done so, but he didn't. Ahold's ultra-cautious CEO gave no hint at the presentation of the annual results yesterday as to when the Dutch retail giant will be entering the German convenience market. Instead, we were told about an admittedly creditable performance which has outfaced the current financial crisis: 2011 net sales gained 5.5 per cent at constant exchange rates to €30.3bn, and net income jumped 19.2 per cent to just over €1bn. The reticence about the entry into Germany really wasn't necessary though. After all, everyone is shouting from the rooftops that the Flying Dutchman of international retailing will be opening in the Dusseldorf/Cologne area this August.
February 24, 2012

German retailers stay in Greece

Lidl Greece advertising
Solid as Mount Atlas: Lidl's 220 Greek discount outlets beat the company's average store revenues in Germany
Like Spartan warriors on the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae, Lidl, Metro and Praktiker refuse to abandon their posts as Greece fights again for its very existence. Despite a seemingly endless saga of economic woe, and much-publicised anti-German feeling, all three retailers confirmed that they have no plans to exit the country in its hour of need. During the current crisis, food retail sales in Greece have probably declined by an average of more than 20 per cent, and non-food lines such as shoes or household goods only byslightly less. German retailers have been not been affected quite so severely, but will clearly have taken a painful hit on their 2011 revenues. Although labour costs will presumably have fallen, this is a brave decision in view of the unforgiving terrain. In addition to excessive bureaucracy and rampant corruption, there has also been vandalism to stores, and considerable disruption to deliveries has caused frequent out-of-stocks.
February 23, 2012

What Walmart didn't say at the AGM

Mike Duke, President & CEO Walmart (photo: Walmart)
Mike Duke: "Every segment of our business is stronger than it was a year ago"
This Tuesday in Bentonville/Arkansas, President & CEO Mike Duke and his chummy management team obviously didn't want to set off any firecrackers. In fact, there were no surprise announcements to make regarding Walmart's annual results for 2011/12. As expected, we heard all the usual superlatives, but with surprisingly little corporate gush. Even the word "great", almost irresistible for American businessmen, fell less frequently than in the past. True to form, the top dogs at the US retail behemoth said everything they were legally and ethically obliged to. They certainly met SEC regulations and, despite a temporary 4 per cent decline in the share price, probably also most analyst expectations. There were even perfunctory updates on sustainability and other politically-correct topics. But what Duke didn't mention in his folksy, southern drawl is what interests us today.
February 17, 2012

Schlecker's foreign drugstore empire

Lars Schlecker, son of Schlecker founder (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Lars Schlecker: "No foreign subsidiary will be made to file for insolvency"
CEO Lars Schlecker made some bullish statements last week on the financial health of the foreign operations at Schlecker, the insolvent German drugstore group. "No foreign subsidiary will be made to file for insolvency," said the son of the founder. Schlecker Austria, whose results also include Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy, received his particular praise. "Austria is our best country, which without question will not be sold." Lars Schlecker also claimed that the Austrian division posted a "seven-digit" operating profit last year and that all its national subsidiaries are in the black. Really? We doubting Thomases have had a hard time trying to check the accuracy of these statements. Group structures are opaque, and the main operating arm was run by founder Anton Schlecker as a "sole trader".