The two most common threats to big corporates can be ORGANISATIONAL and/or ENVIRONMENTAL.

 

As I’ve often said, “Companies don’t fail. Businesses don’t fail. Products don’t fail. Brands don’t fail… It is Leadership and Management that causes these to fail.”

 

In Woolworths case, their internal issues are their sheer refusal to believe that anyone outside their company knows anything worthwhile. It reminds me of the saying, “Only a fool knows everything” and Woollies, for all their admirable knowledge, expertise, and ability, are sailing 5º off course, right into the proverbial Titanic’s iceberg!

 

They stubbornly have refused the recent counsel of a previous CEO who has told the Board, that WOOLWORTHS has chronic “ABC Corporate Cancer” (a term coined by Warren Buffet that identifies the destructive combination of arrogance, complacency and bureaucracy). This is clearly observable when you consider their absence of strategic leadership in overcoming the long-running Coles Price war, their botched and re-botched Every-Day Reward loyalty programs, their high staff turnover in Marketing & Strategy personnel, and turnover of Chairman and CEO.

 

So THREAT No 1, the Denial in recognising the ORGANISATIONAL aspects of ABC, is sending WOOLWORTHS cascading towards disaster. They need to embrace a humility and adopt attitudinal shift to listening to and accepting external advice.

 

The often spruiked Einstein-quote of “Doing what you have always done, and expecting a different result is insanity”, might apply in the face of their diminishing success over the past 10 years.

 

Threat No 2 is an External One. WOOLWORTHS see Coles as their major competitor. While Coles struggles against WOOLWORTHS, Aldi is left to grow consistently at 7%+… Why can’t WOOLWORTHS see the writing on the wall, or at least the significance of this trend???

 

WOOLWORTHS (and Coles) have adopted the short-term, and brand corrosive pursuit of private label and house brands, at the expense of branded products. They have made enemies of FMCG companies that they should be partnering with to undo the generic attack on brand value. They should be encouraging brand equity development and new product development, and supporting brands in ways they never have than before.

 

Instead, they connive to squeeze what little is left in profits for their FMCG partners, forcing budgets dry, eliminating insights for NPD by research, or revenue for brand equity development.

 

So THREAT No 2, the Denial in recognising the ENVIRONMENTAL aspects of ABC, is undermining their own competitive advantage and market positioning, creating an industry and a market place that is becoming more willing to reject WOOLWORTHS as a preferred solution to its needs.

 

Inevitably, of course, the WOOLWORTHS Board will retire, fat on its Directors’ Fees. WOOLWORTHS senior executives will ‘migrate’ to other retail organisations, employed due to their position and political savvy, rather than their failure to save WOOLWORTHS, and WOOLWORTHS will become a company that older people “might remember”.

 

It the poor shareholders of WOOLWORTHS , the faithful investors who trusted the Board and senior executives, for whom I feel sorry; particularly when WOOLWORTHS could return to favour dominance and mega profits, by simply jumping form their self-imposed pedestal and holding cap in hand.

 

NB: WOOLWORTHS were offered a means of generating $400M is EBIT p.a. in 2007… and two senior executives individually approved the concept… but shuffles in management and politics… combined with insurmountable corporate arrogance quashed that concept regardless. Now they’re in trouble – go figure!

Are WW & Coles Sly Agents of Aldi?

WW & Coles are chic, sophisticated efficient retailers – no argument… right?

They analyse return on store real estate, supplier efficiency, optimisation of promotions and deep dive into category workshops so they know more than national advertisers and international manufacturers about key categories.

Focussed on two variables

  1. Maximised return on shareholders funds, and
  2. Shopper satisfaction

WW and Coles may be reaching retailer nirvana…

Or are they building a road to disaster?

WW & Coles claim to be aiming for 30% of product to be house brands, own brands, or generics. In reality independent competitors believe up to 70% of Coles and WW shelves are no longer independent brands.

Their argument is that shoppers don’t mind… they just want ‘value’.

Fly Buys, Everyday rewards and “professional research findings’ are delivering the message that shoppers no longer demonstrate “loyalty’ to branded products.

OK, far too many weak, under-skilled FMCG companies have let brand equity dissipate, and deserve the resulting loss of audience loyalty and diminishing market share.

BUT, are Coles & WW just building a breeding ground for retail brand switching to Aldi?

Aren’t WW & Coles ’teaching’ shoppers to trust house & generic brands? Are not Coles & WW educating Australian consumers to find ample satisfaction by trusting the store, or the packaging, rather than the reputation and brand pride of a manufacturer?

20 years ago Aldi wouldn’t have found critical mass. The old Franklins proudly satisfied one third of the NSW grocery market by differentiating with a broader range of branded alternatives. What a shame that corporate arrogance and loss of leadership brought Franklins undone… but that’s history.

When FMCG possessed a passion for the science and depth of marketing strategy, brands BUILT retail chains, and consumers sneered disrespectfully at generics and copies of ‘real’ brands.

These days are gone. Coles and WW boast they are bringing ‘value’ to shoppers giving them exactly what they want in the form of private brands.

Coles and WW are “training” the Australian consumer to accept the Aldi model

So, while Coles & WW “train” the Australian consumer to accept the Aldi model, Aldi is quietly opening distribution centres, and doubling its stores, size and reach, efficiencies, marketing, and trade relations… having already won 10% of the eastern seaboard and looking for 20% national market share in the next 10 years.

Where will this come from? The shoppers WW & Coles have trained to look for ’value’ in house brands and lower prices!

Can Coles & WW Stop the Rise of Aldi?

Roger Corbett, on leaving the CEO role at WW said, “The biggest weakness for Woolworths is Corporate Arrogance.” If you try and help WW or Coles, their arrogant executives dismiss any suggestions that outside advisors could ‘possibly know better’. But they continue to employ ‘corporate profile’ that will follow the company line, and endorse “the emperor’s new clothes”.

Time will tell.

Meanwhile Aldi grows… with WW & Coles opening stores and ‘unsustainable’ growth rates… tactical actions in an environment that calls for blue ocean strategic assessment.

Let’s see what happens.