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Every little helps... my 10-point plan to make Tesco great again

By Chris Blackhurst

Published 25/04/2015

Mixed bag: parts of Tesco’s empire remain popular, but the brand must now embrace change to thrive
Mixed bag: parts of Tesco’s empire remain popular, but the brand must now embrace change to thrive

Put yourself in Dave Lewis's shoes, said my editor. You're Lewis, the new boss of Tesco. You knew the store group had lost its way when you joined from Unilever (or else you would not have been recruited in the first place).

But what you found was a horror show. Almost the first thing that was brought to your attention was the alleged overstating of the accounts. You launched an investigation and threw the book at those responsible. The case is now the subject of a Serious Fraud Office inquiry.

In truth, the claimed jiggery-pokery was minor in relation to Tesco's overall numbers. But it was symptomatic of an underlying malaise, one that has led to a record annual loss announced this week of £6.38billion.

Staff are demoralised, suppliers (some of whom, it transpires, were treated appallingly) won't go that extra mile for the firm and customers are deserting in droves.

You know the head office is overstaffed and you've taken an axe to that. Likewise, you've quickly identified some stores that are under-performing, and they're going, too.

Meanwhile, as you're never allowed to forget, Lidl are chipping away at your customer base, and Sainsbury's and Asda are loving every minute of your pain.

So, put all that on one side for the moment. What would I do? Well, here it is, my 10-point plan to save Tesco.

1. Put the customer first: It's easier said than done, when you've got City analysts coming at you with yet more charts calculating this yield and that ratio. What it means is always, always think of the shopper. Get out among them. How do they find the stores? What sort of treatment do they receive? Are we giving them what they want? Are they satisfied? And If not, why not?

2. Be first: Time was when Tesco had a reputation for being the great supermarket innovator, for being first with everything. It was the first to launch the Clubcard loyalty scheme and first to open all the checkouts so that there was never more than one person in front of you in the queue.

Tesco needs to recover its name for being the differentiator. Make it famous again. Set new standards of service, so there is someone helping choose a trolley, someone greeting you at the door and someone in each section of the store taking pride in their shelves, assisting and guiding.

Make sure there is someone, if needed, to help unload and pack. Likewise, in the car park, ensure someone is roaming round, offering to put the bags away and take the trolley back.

3. Make the stores friendly: They're too eastern European, too utilitarian. Widen the aisles. Put in free treats, not just as an enticement to buy, but a genuine extra. Make the deli counter spectacular, staffed by gregarious, knowledgeable people. Set up displays of cooking to break the monotony and provide dynamism, and bring local produce to the fore. Restore the frills. Nothing is too trivial. Remember, Every Little Helps.

4. Cut prices but don't go mad: Folk are heading to the discounters, and Tesco should move in that direction to narrow the gap. But don't lose sight of providing add-ons - people will be prepared to pay a bit more than at Aldi or Lidl if they get something for it. That could be anything from familiar, kind faces to extra loyalty points.

Tesco's former great Sir Terry Leahy used to refer to the supermarket as a "broad church". It's not just a case of offering low prices per se.

5. Make as good as Ocado: The brightest spot in Tesco's universe is, which continues to grow and outperform the market. But while outstrips Ocado, the former lags behind its rival for quality of service. Change that - make it so the middle-classes wax lyrical about Tesco's care, not Ocado's.

6. Stand back from the organisation and ask, "Have we got enough women?" By that I mean women in the right places. Promote them, move them, so that stores are managed by women (one of the abiding mysteries of food retailing is why so many senior personnel are men), product ranges are chosen by women and layouts designed by women.

7. Change the senior male culture: It goes hand-in-hand with the previous point, but it was always noticeable just how aggressive, and with that, male, the previous Tesco management had become. Customers did not bother about boasts about logistical efficiencies or supply chain management, they wanted value for money and to feel valued as they spent it. Pick real women, not managerial imitations of men.

Also, ask yourself, "Would women sanction the purchase of even one corporate jet?"

8. Find a face that says Tesco: Awkward one this, but others have done it - Waitrose with Heston and Delia, Sainsbury's with Jamie. It doesn't have to be a cook - we all eat and buy food - but it should be someone who stands for Tesco's values.

Back in 1990, it was Dudley Moore - his series of funny, quirky adverts for Tesco, beginning with French free-range chickens, changed supermarket advertising.

You need a new, warm Dudley figure that gets the whole country talking. David Beckham? Peter Kay?

9. Love your suppliers: If I could cite the moment when Tesco turned sour, it was when reports circulated of suppliers being dragged to the headquarters and being pressurised into agreeing new terms.

They're your friends, your partners. Get the best out of them and you will be the best.

10. Have fun: Tesco has become a faceless, drab behemoth, lacking character and individuality. Encourage the staff to smile, to have a laugh, make them put on daft events, hold in-store competitions to raise money for local good causes - make shoppers want to go there, instead of regarding a trip to Tesco as a form of torture.

And good luck.

Belfast Telegraph

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