Posts Tagged ‘competitive advantage’

Does everyone hate Woollies?

May 16, 2012

I had a brief email exchange with a journalism student last week, and I thought I would share my views with you (my verrrrry patient readers).

The background is that market research had been recently released indicating 72% of Australians don’t trust Coles or Woolworths and these levels of distrust have gone up since last year.

Q. How do you think Woolworths are faring in the Retail sector/Stock market?

Me:  Woolworths had been a darling of the stockmarket until quite recently.  Their main rival, Coles Myer performed poorly for many years, and Woolworths was much quicker in adopting and adapting ‘best practice’ from offshore (most notably through a close alliance with Wal-Mart).  Much of these practices are on the warehousing/stock management side of things.  Woolworths grew faster than Coles Myer and had better margins.  It made some strong moves in the non-supermarket space – with alcohol sales being particularly strong.

The split up of Coles Myer and the acquisition of the non-Department business by Wesfarmers has negatively affected Woolworths. The revamp of both the Coles supermarket business and K-Mart variety stores have put pressure on Woolworths’ (and Big W’s) margins and curbed their growth.  At the same time, Woolworths has been burnt by the poor performance of the Dick Smith business, and the large investments in a rival to Wesfarmers’ Bunnings are a long way from paying off.

Q. What implications might these figures of the survey have for the company and it’s competitors?

Me: As for the distrust aspect, this is far from surprising.  The supermarket sector in Australia is one of the most concentrated in the world.  The attempts by both Coles and Woolworths to further squeeze suppliers (as part of the drive to improve margins) have coincided with a period of perceived price inflation (although I’m not convinced the latter is actually occurring).

Consumers have apparently resigned themselves to the idea that these two duopolists are not really competing too hard. Stories of struggling suppliers seem to have fuelled this animosity.

But like the big banks, I’m not sure customer dissatisfaction will genuinely translate into consumer action.  There is a strong tendency to ‘stick around’ while grumbling.  Any incursion by Aldi (or to a much lesser extent Costco) is unlikely to have a big impact given the sheer weight of numbers (in terms of stores and ease of accessibility).

What do you lot think?

Advertisements

I guess this makes it a Good Beer Year

May 9, 2012

Melbourne is about to celebrate Good Beer Week – a festival of beer-related events showcasing the output of Australia’s burgeoning microbrewing industry (plus some folks across the from NZ, the US, Japan etc).

Microbrewing startups are popping up across Australia in startling numbers, introducing a much welcomed diversity of flavours, styles and business models to our decidedly bland duopolistic beer market (I find myself uttering that duop_ word far too often around here).

One considerable barrier to even more entrants (and their subsequent growth) has been some nasty excise (i.e. taxation especially reserved for such vices as alcohol) imposts that impact most severely on small brewers. Here’s a pretty comprehensive explanation of the problems faced (courtesy of RMIT student TV – head to about the 3 min point for the specifics):

Put simply, small brewers pay a huge whack of tax (in the vicinity of 25% of value) at the point of production (indeed, within 7 days of brewing) rather than sale.  This is a huge cashflow constraint on these businesses. The very small brewers have had some minor relief whereby up to $10,000 per annum would be refunded (but only to a production threshold of 30,000 litres).

Last night’s Federal Budget finally saw a move in the right direction, with that refund increased to $30,000 per annum and the eligibility threshold removed. This will make some small difference in terms of the capacity of such craft breweries to expand and achieve something like minimum efficient scale.

You may have noted that the RMIT vid is from 2007.  The battle has been a long one for these guys, and the concessions relatively minor. Last November, a national industry association was finally formed, and perhaps this helped get some movement in Canberra (it’s worth noting this change costs a paltry $2.5m per annum in government revenue).

I’d love to see the Aussie Craft Beer Industry Association become as wide-reaching and influential as their US counterpart (especially because they gather some excellent data on sales growth and relative scale that is sadly missing in Australia). This small win speaks to the import role of lobbying (case in point: small wine-makers in Australia have had much more appealing rebates for years – perhaps it helps to be in rural seats and to have no shortage of owners from the legal community?).

Most importantly, I hope this excise shift fuels even more growth in the diversity (and success) of local brewers… so this Spectapular can be even larger next year.

Making a case for Aldi

April 20, 2012

While I’ve been criminally quiet around here lately, two of my colleagues (one a coauthor, one my PhD Student) have been busy penning a mighty fine teaching case about the Aussie endeavours of German supermarket giant Aldi.

For a lengthy discussion of Tom Osegowitsch and Markus Goelz’s Aldi Australia case see here.

Of course, I’ve been blabbering on about said mob for ages (back when I used to blog!), although mainly in the US context (weirdly):

See here, here and here.

See Dick jump, see Dick rant

February 1, 2012

Perennial soundbite provider Dick Smith has been very vocal in the past couple of days about the prospect of his namesake retail business falling into ‘foreign hands’. Despite him selling the electronics chain to Woolworth’s two decades ago, he is threatening to ‘trash the brand‘ if some foreign mob tries to buy it.

The logic he throws around on this (and other ‘buy Australian’ campaigns) is spurious at best.  It is very unclear why so much importance is placed on the specific ownership structure of such businesses.  Perhaps it reflects Dick’s own background as a business owner (and therefore someone who derived their income from the ‘surplus’ or profits of the firm). But for almost all stakeholders in the firm, and the overall health of the economy, the question of the location of the major shareholders (and principal decision-makers) should be of little importance.

Dick Smith Electronics sale Woolworths blog Consider the Dick Smith Electronics case.

The firm operate 433 stores across Australia and NZ (we’ll get back to this Trans-Tasman dimension in a second), and made $1.8b in sales last year.  The economic and societal impact on Australia of these operations is most heavily felt in terms of the 5300+ employees and the wages they earn (and then spend/invest), the flow of moneys to landlords, supply chain participants and other ancillary service providers.  The ‘earnings’ of the firm (i.e. the ‘surplus’ or ‘profit extracted by Woolworth’s) last year was a paltry $20m or so.

If Dick Smith Electronics were sold to a non-Australian entity, they would be buying the right to extract such profit, but also taking on the role of paying a wages bill that presumably exceeds $250m, and feeding through a lot of income to the other parts of the Dick Smith sphere of activity.  The firm would still pay taxes, rents, and provide consumers with access to products. The firm might remit profits offshore, but it’s just as likely said profits would be reinvested in Australian in an attempt to improve the business and its performance. This is hardly a case of ‘selling the farm’.

There is also one clearly irreconcilable contradiction in the jingoistic rants of Smith and other mercantilists: outward foreign direct investment.

If the logic says Aussie interests are hurt by any sort of inward investment (e.g. by acquisitions of local firms by big bad foreign folks), then surely any instance when an Australian firm expands offshore is similarly deleterious to the host nation. Where was Dick when his namesake firm made their imperialistic entre into NZ?  And when they signed agreements to ally with Tata in India?

A little yuletide conversation

December 23, 2011

I’ve broken my blogging silence by voicing my opinion on the woes of Xmas retail over at the fancy Conversation website.

It kicks off like this:

The lead up to Christmas inevitably draws our attention to the actions and performance of retailers. This December there have been very few tales of cheer.

It gets better! Read on here.