I'm neither a "Bilderberger," a "birther" or a "truther." Such simple, grand conspiracy theories aren't my cup of tea. I'm a member of the realist school, after all, and we don't make it a practice to brew up conspiracy theories to explain every little mystery that happens to come our way.
But I have to say, despite being a member of the realist school when it comes to politics, economics and corporate behavior, I'm beginning to see a hint of conspiracy - or at the very least a big dose of corporate incestuous behavior - when it comes to the naming of their respective smaller-format grocery stores by the two giants of global retailing - Walmart and Tesco
[Read - Related Story: February 22, 2011: Walmart Stores, Inc. Announces the Name For its New Smaller-Format Food & Grocery Stores: 'Walmart Express']
Although I hate to admit it as a realist, the evidence I've compiled below is nearly overwhelming that something more than mere coincidence or serendipity is going on in the chain/store naming departments at Tesco corporate headquarters in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire United Kingdom and at Walmart's corporate campus in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The corporate campuses of the two global retailing giants - Walmart is the number one retailer in the world and Tesco is the third-largest - may be separated by a vast ocean, or what those of us who still believe in the U.S.-UK special relationship like to instead call a "pond." But when it comes to naming their respective smaller-format stores, it's beginning to appear to me that Tesco and Walmart's chain/store naming gurus might just have each other's smart phone numbers on speed dial. How else to explain the empirical evidence I present below.
My 'theory of the case:' The name-game conspiracy
>In 1994 United Kingdom-based Tesco opened its first small-format, convenience-oriented food and grocery store in the United Kingdom, naming it "Tesco Express."
The stores are 3,000-5,000 square-feet in size. They feature a limited selection of fresh and packaged food and grocery items. Think of the format as a hybrid of a traditional American convenience store and a traditional U.S. smaller neighborhood grocery market in one. "Tesco Express" is the corporate inspiration behind Tesco's "Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market" chain in the U.S.
>In 1998 Bentonville, Arkansas USA-based Walmart Stores, Inc. opened its first smaller-format food and grocery store, naming it "Walmart Neighborhood Market.
The "Walmart Neighborhood Market" format is a supermarket that averages 40,000 -to- 43,000 square-feet in size. The stores contain basically contain all of the food, grocery and non-foods items that a traditional supermarket of its size operated by grocers such as Safeway Stores, Kroger Co. and others do.
The format's positioning is mid-range: Low prices are a focus but not to the extent that hard-discount retailers like Aldi and Sav-A-Lot focus on price. The "Walmart Neighborhood Market" stores SKU selection is limited compared to some supermarkets of the same size. But it's more extensive than the item selections traditional offered by food retailers, regardless of square-footage, that position their respective formats as "limited assortment."
In recent years Walmart has taken its "Walmart Neighborhood Market" format and stores more upscale, in terms of both store design and quality of product offering.
A few years ago Walmart Stores also developed a smaller version, about 30,000 square-feet, of the fromat, which it calls "Neighborhood Market by Walmart." The test store of that format version is in Rodgers, Arkansas, near Walmart's corporate headquarters.
>In 2006 Tesco announced its plans to enter the United States with a chain of small-format (10,000-12,000 sqaure-foot) fresh food and grocery stores called "Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market." The first Fresh & Easy stores opened in November 2007. Currently there are 162 Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores in California, Nevada and Arizona.
"Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market" wasn't Tesco's original name for the El Segundo, California-based chain however. Rather, before"Neighborhood Market," the chain's name was Fresh & Easy Community Market. Following some consumer research, however, which suggested a semantic preference for the word "neighborhood" over "community," Tesco decided to call its U.S. food and grocery chain "Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market" rather than Fresh & Easy Community Market.
Of course, the fact Walmart has a chain of smaller-format (double the square-footage of the Fresh & Easy stores but small by Walmart standards) food and grocery stores in the U.S. called "Walmart Neighborhood Market" probably had no influence on Tesco's choice, right?
Walmart is the largest retailer, including of food and groceries, in the U.S. and the world. Tesco is the world's third largest seller of food and groceries, and general merchandise. Tesco is the number one retailer of food and groceries, and all else, in the United Kingdom, having a 31% market share, which is nearly as much as its two leading food and grocery retailing competitors, Walmart-owned ASDA and Sainsbury's.
>Today, on February 22, 2011, Walmart announced that the name of its newest smaller-format food and grocery-focused stores in the U.S., which will range from as small as 5,000 square-feet, up to about 30,000 square-feet, will be "Walmart Express."
Allow me to recap:
>Tesco: in 1994 names its small-format, convenience-oriented food and grocery stores in the UK: "Tesco Express."
>Walmart: In 2011 names its smaller-format food and grocery chain in the U.S.: "Walmart Express"
>Walmart: In 1994 names its smaller-to-medium format supermarkets in the U.S.: "Walmart Neighborhood Market."
>Tesco: In 2006 names its small-format U.S. food and grocery chain "Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market."
Saying this is going to put me in bad graces with my fellow members of the realist school: But it appears to me something is rotten not just in Denmark but also in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire and Bentonville.
And if it isn't an "Express" and "Neighborhood"-focused name coining conspiracy that's being perpetrated by executives at the highest levels of Walmart and Tesco, then something even worse could be going on - a lack of creativity and originality.
For example, Walmart coins "Neighborhood Market" for its stores in America in 1994. Twelve years later Tesco plays the copycat, appropriating "Neighborhood Market" as half of its name for Fresh & Easy, and doing so right on Walmart's home turf, the United States. "Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market" - indeed.
In 1994, Tesco coins "Express," as in "Tesco Express," which began in the UK but has now been expanded by the retailer to other parts of Europe." Today Walmart follows suit, becoming a fellow copycat, naming its new small-format chain and stores "Walmart Express." "Walmart Express" - indeed.
Perhaps the big, brawny retailer from Bentonville thinks it's being stealth; that nobody will notice its copycat behavior, since the U.S. and UK are separated by that pond I mentioned earlier. But since I divide my time between both sides of the pond, they aren't pulling anything over Earl Grey's eyes, despite the tea bag-sized bags I have under both of them.
Or perhaps "Walmart Express" its just payback by Walmart for Tesco's stealing "Neighborhood Market" five years ago? That's something my realist school friends would likely agree with.
However, I can't help but thinking there's more to this name game than mere coincidence, serendipity or even simple payback, in the case of Walmart's "Express" move today.
After all, we all know both Tesco and Walmart have offices full of creative people, including those in charge of both retailer's corporate departments of naming things.
But if I'm wrong and it isn't a naming conspiracy, then that means I must accept the realist school's explanation, which is that there appears to be a lack of creativity and originality at the top ranks in the naming things departments' at both Tesco and Walmart - along with at the CEO ranks at both companies, since the top guys have to approve the chain and store names - which is a proposition, realist or otherwise, that I just find difficult to fathom.
[Editor's Note: Earl Grey, who spent decades in a variety of positions in the tea industry in both the United Kingdom and United States, followed by a career as a journalist and writer, is Fresh & Easy's Buzz's sometime satire/humor correspondent. We call him that for two reasons: He only writes for the Fresh & Easy Buzz sometimes, and he's only occasionally humorous.]
[Click here to read Earl Grey's past columns in Fresh & Easy Buzz]