Sunday, August 17, 2008

Special Report: Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Experiencing A Category Manager and Buyer 'Brain Drain'

Five category managers and buyers have left their jobs at Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market corporate headquarters in just a four -to- five month period, from February -to- June of this year, Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned.

These five category managers and buyers were responsible for headquarters product category merchandising and buying for the majority of the grocery chain's key grocery department categories. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's merchandising and buying function is organized into various departmental segments such as grocery, fresh foods and the like.

The following are the titles and categories the departed Fresh & Easy category managers and buyers were responsible for:

Title: Category Manager/Specialty Foods. Responsible for merchandising and buying of all Specialty Foods, which includes: spices, baking products, oils and numerous other categories Tesco's Fresh & Easy categorizes under the broad specialty foods title.

Title: Category Manager/Non Foods. Responsible for the merchandising and buying of the entire non-foods category, in addition to directly buying about 50% of the category's items on a day-to-day basis. A buyer who reported to this category manager bought the other 50% of the category items on a day-to-day basis.

Title: Buying Manager/Non-Foods. This buyer, who also left like the non-foods' category manager, bought the about 50% of the non-foods category items the category manager didn't buy, including baby food and baby supplies and pet foods.

Title: Category Manager/Breakfast, Snacks, Confection, Cookies and Crackers. In addition to having overall merchandising responsibility for these categories, the category manager also bought all the confection and snack lines on a day-to-day basis, while a direct-report buyer bought the other categories.

Title: Buying Manager. Bought the following non-foods category segments on a day-today basis: vitamins, energy bars, paper goods, detergent and a few others. Additionally, this buyer had previously bought coffee, canned goods, jams, preserves and a few other food segments. The non-foods category buying responsibilities came after the non-foods category manager left employment, which according to sources was about 3 months before this buying manager left.

Fresh & Easy Buzz has identified the names of each of these five category managers and buyers through our sources and through additional research. However, we aren't publishing the names since we don't think doing so in necessary, along with the fact one or more of them may currently be in the job market.

The first category manager/ buyer left Tesco's Fresh & Easy in late February, 2008, according to multiple sources. The last buyer to leave the company did so in late June, according to our sources.

As each of these category managers and buyers left Tesco's Fresh & Easy in the four -to- five month period from February -to- June of this year, their respective category management and buying responsibilities were divided among the remaining category managers and buyers, resulting in what sources have described as significant added workloads for the remaining headquarters buyers.

Suppliers also say there's been somewhat of a "who's on first" situation at Tesco's corporate buying headquarters in El Segundo, California in that with so many category managers and buyers leaving over such a short period of time, product lines are being handed off near weekly, resulting in having a different buyer every other week or so for a supplier's line.

These five aren't the only category managers or buyers who've left Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in its short tenure. A couple of the grocery chain's original buyers, hired in the pre-store opening phase, left the company before the first stores opened in late October-early November, 2007.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has been advertising for category managers and buyers and conducting interviews to replace each of the five headquarters merchandising and buying department employees who've left the company over the last 4 -to- 5 months.

We've learned that a couple of the positions have been filled but that at least two, both category manager positions, have yet to be filled.

A person who interviewed for one of the positions recently, but who notified the company shortly after his interview that he wasn't interested in the position because he decided to accept another opportunity offered him elsewhere, told Fresh & Easy Buzz he was told that if hired it was possible he might end up as a category manager in a category different than the one he was interviewed for initially because things were in a bit of a state of flux within the buying department.

The five buying department employees who've left Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in just the last four -to- five months have left a serious void, or brain drain, at corporate headquarters when it comes to merchandising and buying, according to multiple sources.

In many ways, most of the grocery chain's short institutional memory and history in the grocery category headquarters and buying area has been wiped away with such a significant number of key department employees exiting the company over such a short period of time.

Numerous suppliers, many of whom already have expressed frustration in doing business with Tesco's Fresh & Easy, say they are even more frustrated by what one described as the turnstile buying department at the company.

The buying department brain drain and void also is in part to blame for the higher than should be out-of-stocks in Fresh & Easy grocery stores, although the retailer's official position has been that there isn't a problem.

Additionally, with such a dynamic passing around of buying responsibilities, as anyone who's every been a category manager or buyer is well aware, it's near impossible to properly learn a category when its in your portfolio for such a short amount of time.

Further, as those who've been category managers and buyers, along with those who've called on them know, when buyers get loaded-down with too many additional lines, they tend to end up essentially doing nothing but cutting purchase orders, which means instead of managing a category for optimized sales and gross margins, they merely are forced to become purchasing agents.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy is attempting to replace all five category manager and buyers, and as we mentioned above has hired some replacements thus far. Other changes are coming to the department as well, which we will report on as we learn more.

It appears when it comes to category management and buying at Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, things are certainly "fresh," as in lots of buyer turnover, but keeping the buyers around certainly doesn't seem to be "easy."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, the first buying manager left in December of 2007. Including all of the Category Managers AND Buyers AND a Technical Manager, the grand total comes to 11. Roughly 60% turnover from Ms Maxwell's team. (Give or take)