Friday, June 20, 2008

Competitor News: Wal-Mart Executive in Charge of Small-Format 'Marketside' Format Development Leaving to Join UK Bicycle Retailer Halfords Group PLC

David Wild, Wal-Mart, Inc.'s senior vice president of business development and the company executive who's been in charge of its new small-format Marketside grocery and fresh food format stores, is leaving the world's largest retailer to accept a position as CEO of Halfords Group PLC, the United Kingdom's largest retailer of car parts and bicycles, according to a statement just released by the Redditch, England-based company.

Wild was named to the position of senior vice president of business development at Wal-Mart in January, 2007. He held other executive positions with the company prior to that appointment.

Wild, who spent 18 years with UK-based Tesco PLC, will start his CEO duties at Halfords Group PLC on August 4, according to the statement.

In an interesting twist, he succeeds former CEO Ian McLeod, who left the car parts and bicycle retailer to run Australian supermarket chain Coles Group Ltd. as CEO. Halfords Group PLC apparently likes food and grocery retailing CEO's, as its replacing one, Ian McLeod, with another, David Wild. McLeod and Wild aren't strangers either. Both worked for Wal-Mart in Germany before the mega-retailer exited the German market in 2006.

During his 18 years with Tesco PLC, Wild was heavily involved with the retailer's European expansion, including having a hand in the development of its successful Tesco Express small format combination convenience and grocery stores in Europe.

"He (David Wild) brings over 20 years' retailing experience, gained at two world-leading businesses (Tesco and Wal-Mart), and clearly has the skills and ability to move the company forward,'' Halfords Group PLC Chairman Richard Pym said in the statement. "We are confident that David will add tremendous value to Halfords.''

Wal-Mart put David Wild in charge of spearheading its Marketside small-format combination grocery and fresh foods store development project in part because of his extensive experience at Tesco, which has been an innovator in small format food retailing with its Tesco Express stores in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, and now with its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market small-format, convenience-oriented grocery markets in the Western USA.

Wild led the Marketside development team, as we first reported in late 2007, in San Francisco where the group first conducted extensive format and consumer research and planned, developed and honed the concept and format. Wal-Mart has an office near San Francisco where it operates aspects of its business.

Wild has also been the corporate cheerleader for Marketside inside Wal-Mart, Inc., and was the one who championed having the stores' prepare fresh foods in-store in kitchens rather than having the fresh, prepared foods made at a central kitchen and shipped to the stores like Tesco is doing with its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood market stores.

Wal-Mart's first four Marketside stores are set to open in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region this summer, as we've reported in Fresh & Easy Buzz.

Additionally, as we reported here (just scroll down a bit at the link), Wal-Mart is looking for sites for the small-format Marketside stores in both Northern and Southern California. We also reported here that Wal-Mart is likely to be locating a Marketside store in this new development in Reno, Nevada.

Since the development phase for Marketside is complete, and the first four stores are set to open soon, its unclear if Wild's leaving Wal-Mart will be a setback for the retailer and Marketside. At this point, according to our Wal-Mart sources, operations is taking priority over development with Marketside, as the company has set up an office in Phoenix and is currently hiring managers and assistant managers for the four stores, along with getting the stores ready to open.

As the senior vice president of business development, Wild was preparing to move on to some new ventures in his position at Wal-Mart, therefore his timing in terms of leaving and accepting the CEO position at Halfords isn't likely to create a major shakeup with Marketside, although as the new format's head developer and cheerleader he will obviously leave somewhat of a void.

Wild isn't starting at Halfords Group PLC until August 4. And our Wal-Mart sources tell us in part that's because he wants to be around when the first of the Marketside stores opens in Arizona. In other words--and you read it here first--the first Arizona Wal-Mart Marketside grocery and fresh foods store will open before August 4, 2008.

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