What can the little guy learn from the big guy?

This week, we’ve got a really interesting – and topical – guest blog for you, by Tim Nicol, from the Taste Tideswell project, featured on national TV last year…

What can the little guy learn from the big guy?

Tesco’s recent market and financial performance are headline news, and provide an irresistible opportunity for many to rail against the “retail behemoth”. It’s one of our national characteristics to glory in a fall from grace.

If you are an independent retailer or small food producer, you can either regard the multiple supermarkets as the big bullies or you can choose to learn from what is going on around you and compete more effectively.

I’ve always preached “fight the battles you can win” when talking to smaller food and drink businesses. That doesn’t mean lie back and let things happen to you, nor does it mean going head to head in a battle for retail supremacy with multi billion pound businesses. Be smart – use the publicly available sources of information (not just the Daily Mail and Radio 4) to learn from the big guys and implement change in your business that will improve your sales and profit.

For example, Tesco’s website includes a video library and in it there’s 3min50secs of insight into what Tesco are doing with their food offer to improve the in-store experience. It’s called Better Stores Better Service (incidentally I found this via an excellent retail commentator I follow called Steve Dresser – @dresserman on Twitter, or www.ukretailers.blogspot.co.uk He is well worth a follow).

Listen carefully to the professional, scripted production – and think why each shot was used. Turn up the volume, suspend any natural cynicism you may have for a few minutes, and see what you can learn. The words and images used will have been chosen carefully by people who have access to capabilities and research that are beyond the reach of small businesses.

The words that resonated with me were “warmth”, “friendliness”, and “staff”. The strategy is clear, put “fresh food first” as a driver of traffic (and therefore overall market share) and display it better, in a more comforting environment supported by more, better trained staff. In the words of Tony Hoggett, the MD of Tesco UK Stores, “It’s not rocket science” and indeed it isn’t; you can see better examples of the same strategy in the excellent new Morrisons “Stores of the Future” in St Albans and Kirkstall, Leeds and as Steve Dresser points out, Morrisons are undoubtedly ahead of the game in fresh food.

The video also gives some tangible pointers to how the stores and displays are being improved – the use of colours, lighting and merchandising equipment are all worth studying. There’s even an easy idea any retailer can implement – control product quality by asking yourself “would I buy it?” If the answer is no, take it off sale; as a producer, it’s worth asking yourself that same question before approaching a retailer too.

No-one expects a small retailer to be a clone of Tesco – that is the last thing you should be, so once you have made up your mind how you are different, take the same advice that Tesco are giving themselves and work on warmth, friendliness, and staff quality.

Ironically, aren’t these just the kind of competitive battles that small independent retailers CAN win?

Tim was the “Village Champion” for Tideswell in the Peak District as part of the BBC1 series, “Village SOS” and launched the “Taste Tideswell” project: www.tastetideswell.co.uk.

Follow him on Twitter @nicoltim or email him on [email protected].