What is the biggest lesson from this year's blockbuster Supervalu-Albertsons pending transaction? My biggest takeaway is Supervalu's belief in its ability to revive retail properties using its expertise in local marketing. Supervalu's Jeff Noddle, chairman and chief executive officer, underlined this point by saying his company will enable people closer to the consumer to make in-market decisions. "You can't sit in one market and understand what consumers want in another market," he said.
I quote Noddle in order to underline how local marketing continues to grow as an industry imperative. In the supermarket business there's no one more local than the store manager. But too often these front-line employees are without the tools needed to take advantage of their local status.
That was the contention from a panel of three top retail executives who discussed challenges impacting store managers at the Food Marketing Institute Midwinter Executive Conference late last month. The panel was devoted to whetting the appetite for the presentation of a Coca-Cola Research Council study, which is still in progress, at the May FMI Show.
The retail panel consisted of Rick Anicetti, president and CEO, Food Lion; Russell Tres Lund III, president and CEO, Lund Food Holdings; and Don McGeorge, president and chief operating officer, Kroger Co. Why are these highly regarded inhabitants of executive suites so concerned about the hurdles facing today's store managers? Because, they said, store managers are the recipients of a growing flood of information and directives from superiors in the form of e-mails and other correspondences. Well-intentioned communications from senior executives often get lost in translation by the time they reach the stores. Store managers spend so much time catering to the needs of off-site managers that they have less time than ever to connect with customers. "That store manager really is your brand, that is Kroger to the customers," McGeorge said. "So we must take out the confusion, remove what impedes them."
The study, based on interviews conducted by the Franklin Covey research organization, will identify highly successful store managers at a range of companies, partly by looking at the financial results of their stores, and outline best practices of these employees, according to Bill Bishop, an adviser to the council who is president of Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill. The study will provide tools to help apply the lessons to other retailers.
This research will likely alter some conventional wisdom about the day-to-day hurdles faced by store managers, particularly those within chain organizations with highly layered structures. In contrast, the success of the best independent operators can surely be traced to their commitments to enabling local managers to connect with customers. The independents' local edge will certainly be a topic this week at the annual National Grocers Association convention in Las Vegas.
It's a smart idea to shed more light on store managers. But companies can't stop there. The entire retail organization needs to be as enthusiastic about local marketing as it is about synergies or cutting costs. It needs to analyze every inch of the apparatus that connects corporate executives to divisional managers and, in turn, to store personnel. That will give store managers a healthy environment in which to perform.