December 30, 2009

Insead and Harvard professors talk retailing

Insead-Professor Marcel Corstjens (photo: Insead)
Insead-Professor Marcel Corstjens
An invitation from Marcel Corstjens to a transatlantic videoconference on the globalisation of retailing is a challenging proposition. Corstjens (60) is Unilever Chaired Professor of Marketing at INSEAD. Among his best-known publications is the retail classic "Storewars: The Battle for Mindspace and Shelf Space", co-written with his wife Judy, on strategies in the consumer goods industry. Corstjens' intellectual sparring partner on the other side of the pond was Rajiv Lal, the Stanley Roth Senior Professor of Retailing at Harvard Business School, where he supervises the retailing curriculum. Among other things, Professor Lal is a recognised expert on India. The teleconference was ably flanked by Jean Jacques (JJ) Vandenheede, senior retail industry analyst for ACNielsen Europe.
December 18, 2009

Talk with John Lewis Chairman Charlie Mayfield

Charlie Mayfield, Chairman John Lewis Partnership (photo: Mackenzie Photos)
Charlie Mayfield: "Management is accountable to all associates"
Polite, modest, cogent – take your pick which positive attribute best characterizes Charlie Mayfield , the 42-year-old Executive Chairman of John Lewis Partnership (JLP). Mayfield's general courtesy to visitors and staff is not a modish fad jetted in by management consultants from New York. He is the figurehead of a most unusual company owned by just under 70,000 employees, called "partners". Although the origins of the company date back to 1864, the Partnership was founded in its present form in 1929 by John Spedam Lewis, a believer in "industrial democracy" who strove to combine commercial acumen and corporate conscience" in a company where staff "share knowledge, power and profit". In 2008 this equated to a £290m return to partners in the form of a bonus, pensions and other benefits. Hallo Charlie, have you got a job?
November 4, 2009

Rinascente investor Borletti talks Karstadt

Maurizio Borletti, CEO Borletti Group (photo: Borletti Group)
Maurizio Borletti: "There is space for a pan-European department store operator"
For months local media has sizzled with speculation that the investment consortium behind Italy's leading department store chain La Rinascente could also bid for failed German department store group Karstadt. Vittorio Radice, CEO at Milan-based Rinascente, doesn't buy into the logic of any such deal, but declined to speak for its investors. On the other hand, managing investment partner Maurizio Borletti has very clear views on the subject. Admittedly, Borletti Group only has a 4 per cent stake in the new limited company that is La Rinascente (2008 revenues: €900m). But Maurizio Borletti's influence within the investment consortium allows him to punch above his weight. This is essentially due to his impeccable retail credentials.
October 23, 2009

Schlecker demands better terms & conditions

Anton Schlecker, founder Schlecker (photo: Schlecker)
Congratulations: German drugstore baron Anton Schlecker is now a senior citizen -- suppliers are cordially invited to join the birthday party celebrations
As Anton Schlecker begins to celebrate his 65th birthday, the founder and CEO of Germany's largest drugstore discount chain shows no sign of wanting to retire. True to form, Schlecker is already demanding better terms & conditions from suppliers for the company's 35th anniversary in 2010. They claim that the drugstore king is demanding 3 to 5 per cent of their annual revenues and threatening to delist them in the event of non-compliance. Lebensmittel Zeitung's request for clarification, elicited a prompt response from Schlecker headquarters in Ehingen: "Suppliers have grown with Schlecker for 35 years and have greatly profited from the company's success...However, a full listing has been called into question for those suppliers who no longer wish to participate in this extremely positive joint development." Sounds like a really fun party. So another year older, but nothing has changed: Few retailers polarise opinion as strongly as Anton Schlecker.
October 20, 2009

Tengelmann's long implosion

Tengelmann head office in Mülheim (photo: Tengelmann)
How green was my valley: Tengelmann as it views itself
Like a dark star in Germany's retail cosmos, Tengelmann continues to implode – slowly, surely, inevitably. As per 2008, TradeDimensions could still rank Tengelmann Group as Germany's sixth-largest food retailer with annual sales of €14bn and a market share of just over 6 per cent. But after the sale of many of its German "Plus" soft discount outlets, the Mülheim-based company is certainly a fair deal smaller today. Apparently, the family-run company is also near selling the "Plus" store networks in Austria, Rumania and Bulgaria. German hard discounter Lidl could be interested in the company's Bulgarian outlets and Delhaize Group subsidiary Alfa-Beta is believed to lust after the Rumanian ones.
October 1, 2009

How to get listed with German retailers

Anuga 2009
Anuga: The world's largest food trade fair held in Cologne every two years in October
Should there be anyone on the planet who still doesn't know: In the strictest of confidence, Anuga, the world's largest food trade fair, will be held this October in Cologne. Lebensmittel Zeitung, of course, will have its own stand there. So you want to enter Europe's largest market with a population of over 80 million people? Did you know that these prosperous consumers spend one fifth of their disposable income on food, drink and tobacco €200bn ($300bn; £175bn)? And are you aware that nearly seven out of every ten euros paid by these customers at the tills is spent with Germany's Top 5 grocers (Edeka, Metro, Rewe, Schwarz Group & Aldi)? Perhaps a suitable time to give some tips & tricks on how foreign food & drink exporters can get listed by German retailers...
September 17, 2009

Talk with Coop Italia CEO Vincenzo Tassinari

Vincenzo Tassinari, CEO Coop Italia (photo: Coop Italia)
Vincenzo Tassinari: "Italian retailing faces a tough selection process where only the strong will survive"
Dr. Vincenzo Tassinari (60) hardly seems to have changed since he last talked with Lebensmittel Zeitung at Coop Italia head office in Bologna in 1990. "I am a little greyer though." Like most Italians, the CEO beamed when asked after his children, and life's knocks didn't seem to have dented his friendly manner. Admittedly, it is easier to be happy when you can act from a position of strength. Whereas the co-operative movement all but self-destructed in Germany with the demise of the Coop in 1989, the Italian consumer co-operative has nearly seven million members. Despite the tough recession in Italy, Coop Italia, with annual sales last year of €12.6bn, has a leading market share (nearly 18 per cent) of the Italian grocery market. At the end of the day, there are worse things for a retailer than to be deeply rooted in your national soil as well as in the hearts and minds of local shoppers.
September 16, 2009

Aldi's slow start in Poland

Aldi Nord facade (photo: Georg Lukas)
International banner: The Aldi logo is heading east despite post-communist bureaucracy
Aldi North's expansion in neighbouring Poland is lagging far behind initial plans. A good year after entry, the German discount giant has only managed to open around 30 stores. "They are on no one's radar at the moment," says one local retail manager. The main problem seems to be the purchase of sufficiently large sites in the required quality. As rivals power away, can they catch up? According to Lebensmittel Zeitung information, Aldi has only secured around 120 sites to date. Difficulties with local bureaucracy exacerbate the situation. "They demand an authorization for everything," was one anonymous criticism heard recently in Aldi circles. Authorisations are not only required for the sale of spirits but also cover many other product groups. Despite these problems and the disappointing progress to date, Aldi North sees no reason to withdraw from Poland and firmly believes that it is never to late to enter a market.
August 27, 2009

Talk with Fisherman's Friend owners

Doreen and Tony Lofthouse (photo: Fisherman's Friend)
Doreen and Tony Lofthouse: "We love our business"
In a plastic age dominated by large numbers, interchangeable products and a general lack of authenticity, rewarding experiences are rare. However, you will not be short-changed when you meet people as genuine as Tony & Doreen Lofthouse, Joint-MD viz. Chairman of Lofthouse of Fleetwood Ltd, the company that makes the world-famous and tongue-numbing "Fisherman's Friend" lozenges. Corporate headquarters are situated on the outskirts of the quaint fishing village of Fleetwood/England on the Irish sea, just north of Blackpool, with a commanding view over Morecombe Bay. Among the peculiarities of this windy seaside resort are a double-decker tram, a lighthouse and seagulls that never seem to sleep – a quaint and quirky back-drop for one of the food industry's international success stories.
August 20, 2009

Wal-Mart Germany revisited

Walmart Germany (photo: Thomas Fedra)
Costly outing: Walmart's trip to Germany cost shareholders billions
For years, marketers have been trying to convince journalists that "retro" is the latest consumer fad. Still a recent cluster of comments on our German website, LZnet, did surprise. A number of readers reminisced about the good-old days when US retail behemoth Walmart, or Wal-Mart as it then was, strove to thrive on German soil. In fact, Walmart's incongruous, and ultimately very costly, guest appearance in "Old Europe" from 1997 to 2006 really does seem to have created a crowd of followers – at least in retrospect. In the interests of free speech, German Retail Blog is happy to translate this fan mail below for our international readers But may one dare to remind the romantics of what the Wal-Mart Germany fiasco was really like?