Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bloggers-At-Large: The UK's 'Village Postmaster' Offers His Thoughts On Tesco Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason's 'Mea Culpa'

The "Village Postmaster" is an independent retailer, town postmaster and Blogger -- the "Village Counter Talk" Blog -- in the lovely and bucolic village of West Chiltington, West Sussex, United Kingdom.

He's also a longtime observer of and posts often about United Kingdom-based global retailer Tesco, which owns and operates El Segundo, California (Southern)-based Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, which currently has 113 small-format (10,000-13,000 square foot) grocery and fresh foods markets in Southern California, Metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada and Metro Phoenix, Arizona, in the Western United States.

Tesco plc is the leading food and grocery retailer in the UK. It controls about a 31% market share in the nation. Tesco is the third-largest retailer in the world, after number one U.S.-based Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and number two Carrefour, which is headquartered in France.

As a longtime independent retailer, as well as having his store in West Chiltington, West Sussex UK serve as the town's post office, "The Village Postmaster" offers his experiences and insights in his "Village Counter Talk" Blog from the perspective of an independent entrepreneur. The Blog is followed closely by many in the United Kingdom and beyond.

For example, here's what columnist Vickie Woods of the London Daily Telegraph newspaper says about "The Village Postmaster" and his "Village Counter Talk" Blog: "The 'Village Postmaster' is a curmudgeon, and 'Village Counter Talk' is one long enjoyable moan about the somewhat embattled job of keeping a business going in the face of desperate odds."

The United Kingdom's "Village Postmaster" read our piece in Fresh & Easy Buzz published yesterday in which we reprinted a brief report from today's Sunday London Times about Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO, and Tesco PLC senior corporate officer, Tim Mason being quoted as saying the grocer "got it wrong" from the start about various aspects of its Fresh & Easy chain, and then we detailed in the post how Mr. Mason's comments, as attributed in the Times' report, sound like they came right out of the pages of Fresh & Easy Buzz, in terms of our analysis, arguments and suggestions over the last year-plus. [You can read our piece from yesterday here: A Healthy 'Mea Culpa': Tesco Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason Says 'We Got it Wrong;' Comments Tend to Agree With Fresh & Easy Buzz Analysis and Arguments.]

We weren't surprised to see today that longtime Tesco-watcher, independent retailer and Blogger "The Village Postmaster" has already offered his own view of the issue today in his Blog in a post titled: "Tesco Own's Up At Last." He does follow Tesco and its USA Fresh & Easy venture rather closely, after all.

You can read what "The Village Postmaster" has to say in his post today in the "Village Counter Talk" Blog here.


The Village Postmaster said...

Thanks for spotting me again.

Although I have not given F&E any coverage recently, there seemed little to comment on, I continue to read your excellent coverage as I have from your first post.

The one think that jumps out of it is that California and Californians behave, live and shop in a very different way to people in the UK. Tesco seem to have missed that point.


Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

Not only do Californian's shop differently in most cases than consumers in the UK do (there are some similarities though as well), but Californian's even shop differently than their fellow Californian's do.

Example: In Northern California's San Francisco Bay Area most of the upscale, natural-organic format Whole Foods Market stores are still booming. In Southern California most of the Whole Foods stores there are struggling. There are single-store exceptions in each region to that rule -- but it is the case on an overall basis.

Example 2: In California's Central Valley, consumers still buy bulk iceberg lettuce in a much higher percentage than they do red leaf, green leaf, butter lettuce and pre-bagged salad mixes. In the Bay Area the complete opposite is true. This is the case even though some parts of the Bay Area are only 30-40 minutes away from some parts of the Central Valley.

Last example: Latino consumers in Northern California much prefer, and overall buy more of the Pagasa brand of Mexican Pasta than the Gamesa brand. (Hispanics use this pasta for soups.They buy the same pasta as everybody else does for pasta with sauce, ect.) It is a high volume item.

In contrast, in Southern California the Gamesa brand outsells the Pagasa brand by miles and miles. Both brands are made in Mexico, both brands are generally the same product. It's all about regional differences and brand preference, along with a few other reasons like which brand was established in each market first.

There are many more similar examples across nearly every product category.

If a grocer wants to operate stores in both Southern, Central and Northern California, and they do not learn about these preferences, like the pasta example, they not only are short-changing their operations in terms of sales, but also will fail to attract shoppers.

We could go on. But that's just an example of what we call the regional, sub regional, sub-sub regional and local consumer food shopping preferences in the Western U.S., particualrly in California. (Also throughout the U.S.; it's not limited to the west by any means.)

This also is one reason independents do so well in the U.S. and particularly in California. They are close to the communities they serve and thus, at least the successful ones, are on top of such local preferences most often before the chains are. Although chains like Safeway have become very good at local and neighborhood-oriented merchandising.

Anonymous said...

As an industry person here in the states who has first hand experience with Fresh & Easy-having opened up the lines of communication with them before they even opened their offices in the States-and then involved with them since the very beginnings of their operations here -I have to compare their methods to those of the Red Coats-who despite being attacked guerilla warfare style by my American ancestors-kept marching in formation as their numbers where picked off unwilling or unable to react or develop sensible responses in real time to the challenge. The combination of arrogance and inability to actually see or understand -and even worse-dismiss-the habits of their targeted shopper has led to their less than stellar results. You can't just engineer a shopping experience-especially with Americans-and in the process hope or just expect as they seem to have done that people will come. While Tesco has a name throughout the rest of the world it is unknown here. To think you could on your own, without any critical mass, change the shopping habits of a people from another country-while completely ignoring the things that work here-like products at the check stands-is beyond my understanding and those of my colleagues. The results thus far seem to confirm what many of us in the industry seem to feel: Tesco/Fresh & Easy has missed the mark.

Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

I couldn't agree with the above poster more.

'Arrogance' is a word that keeps showing up in the analysis of F&E's operations. From the beginning during market research to now with reluctance to change, very arrogant UK expats, here to 'show us the business'. Bah.

The food stinks.
The way they treat suppliers stinks.
The locations stink.
The advertising (non-existent) stinks.

Everything about F&E, from conception to execution is laughable.

Open 300 stores and expect people to buy from you because there are 300 stores? Tautology much?

Import a bunch of spoiled children to work in the USA, more concerned with watching Euro Cup than meeting with suppliers?

Keeping your ghost town of a store location open to save face instead of closing them to save money?

Publicly promoting a desire to open stores in under served/economically depressed areas, then opening TWO?? stores in such areas?

But the award for 'Best Schizo Retail Performance' has to be awarded to F&E for believing they could compete with a TJ's or Whole Foods. Wait... Henry's Market? Or wait, was it WalMart & Ralph's & Von's? Or maybe 7-11?