Posts Tagged ‘Retailing’

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.

Westfield gets a Brazilian… and goes Italiano

August 12, 2011

It is rare to see an Australian multinational announce two international expansion moves in the same week. And it’s even rarer when said moves are to two different continents.

Shopping centre giant Westfield made two such announcements this week, with joint ventures signed in firstly, Brazil, and today, Italy.

As I wrote about in a book chapter on Westfield a few years ago, the firm has typically been reluctant to seek opportunities beyond the English-speaking world.  The firm entered the US way back in 1977, with a portfolio of properties slowly emerging over the coming two decades.

Westfield succeeded in the US by buying run-down malls that no one visited anymore and turning them around through innovative redevelopment projects.  Most competitors in the industry preferred building new malls.

By the late 1990s Westfield had emerged as the dominant player on the US scene, and continued to grow right through to the global financial crisis.

In the broader world, they have been more cautious.  As we argued in the chapter:

“Westfield’s internationalisation was never a story of extreme risk-taking.  Frank Lowy saw little value in acting as the pioneer in environments where the payoffs were too low.  As long as there were opportunities to be had in the US, then Europe, Asia and New Zealand could wait. Eventually in 1997 the group took over the management of ten St Luke shopping centres in New Zealand. In 2000 Westfield Trust and St Lukes Group merged and the New Zealand centres were re-branded as Westfield centres. Attempts to enter the UK market in the 1970s and 1980s were unsuccessful. Lowy expressed considerable frustration with the lack of dynamism in the UK investment houses and lack of planning enthusiasm (Margo, 2000). Not until early 2000 did Westfield finally obtain access with a 75 per cent stake in a centre at Broadmarsh, Nottingham. The firm has made considerable headway since, with seven centres on the books, and is set to open the largest centre in Greater London in early 2008. Westfield briefly entered Asia in 1998 with a ten per cent share of Suria Kuala Lumpur City Centre in Malaysia.  This investment was short-lived, however, with the company withdrawing in 2000 after the Asian currency crisis.”

So why has the firm moved now?

On the Brazil front, the firm is tapping into one of the most exciting and fast-growing large economies in the world.  The firm may see some useful urban similarities to Australia and tthe US (i.e. more ‘wide, open spaces’ in the ‘burbs), and Brazil may also be seen as far less challenging than China and India for example (with much less government intrusion likely).

At the same time the firm may see far fewer prospects in the moribund US economy and its close-to-saturated Aussie home.

Bringing a local, experienced joint venture partner is a very sensible move for a multinational with no experience in the market. While Westfield hasn’t typically hooked up with shopping centre management firms before (preferring instead to court construction firm and funds management partners – i.e. in essence, supply partners), local adaptation is clearly front of mind here. There should also be an appetite for knowledge acquisition on both sides of this equation.

The Italian move looks a little riskier, with patchier economic conditions and a reputation for bureaucratic randomness.  There may be an argument for very localised attractiveness here, as the firm is targeting one of the wealthier and more retail-savvy parts of the nation – Milan (also home to some of the oldest shopping arcades in the world). Indeed, this could also be a brand-building exercise in a city/region with no shortage of brand champions, especially in the luxury and masstige segments Westfield is keen to attract across its empire.

The final piece of this strategic puzzle might well rest on the role of individuals in both constraining and driving choices.

Firm founder Frank Lowy finally handed over the reins to his baby about five months ago (stepping down as Executive Chairman).  His sons appear to stamping their mark on the firm’s future with these two bold (but tentative) moves.

Dueling Duopolists, or, who should we cheer for when bullies battle?

March 24, 2011

The Aussie news headlines have been buzzing in recent days with the competing cries of our embattled brewers and the ‘on the side of the consumer’ supermarket giants, over an alleged effort by the latter to sell the majors’ beers as ‘loss leaders’.  See here and here for a reasonable summary.

This is the latest staple product to get this sort of a run (after milk and petrol) as Woolworths and the revitalised Coles (as part of Wesfarmers) engage in some much-missed competition.  Of course, it isn’t competition via ‘across the board’ price cuts, but, rather, through trying to switch buying preferences from one chain to the other (utilising the grocer’s associated liquor chains).

And poor old Foster’s (and presumably the much quieter Lion Nathan) are worried that this (alleged) predatory pricing will hurt their margins, and those of independent liquor retailers.

The reality of all this is that we’re talking about two pairs of behemoths locking horns, and competition here is a very different beast to that envisaged in perfect markets.  Look at the numbers:

– Foster’s (48% market share) and Lion Nathan (44%) amount to 92 percent of the Aussie beer market

– Woolworths and Coles/Wesfarmers amount to roughly 50% of the Aussie liquor retailing market (with most other sales through small, independent retailers)

– Woolworths (around 40%) and Coles/Wesfarmers  (around 35%) amount to roughly 75% of the Aussie grocery market

Those are the sort of market shares we called oligopolistic, or indeed duopolistic, with competition often reaching a calm equilibrium through effective price signalling and/or maintenance of market share.

Foster’s are kicking and screaming, however, due to concerns about the buying power of the two retail giants. Now, if Foster’s had a significant retail arm it might be able to curb such a threat (and earn more of those nice rents from the duopoly power).

But back in 2003 the brewer sold off Australian Liquor and Hospitality Group (ALH), which operated 131 hotels and 109 bottle shops. ALH now runs 285 licensed venues and over 450 retail liquor outlets.  And guess who now owns 75% ALH… Woolworths.  It seems Foster’s handed Woolworths the stick it is now being beaten with.

There’s talk that this behaviour will all come under the scrutiny of some eagle-eyed politicians in Canberra in the coming weeks.  Now, we’d hope they know a lot about duopolies (i.e. systems with two powerful parties)…

Aussie retailers should be very nervous indeed

February 25, 2011

Forget the online sales tax kerfuffle, this is the most ominous sight for several Aussie fashion retailers:

This is in the Bourke Street Mall (central Melbourne)…

More on the international Aussie coffee influence

February 7, 2011

The Australian newspaper has jumped on this blog’s bandwagon about Australian’s exporting our coffee/café habits:

“The caffeine hit preferred by millions of Australians and New Zealanders is now appearing in coffee houses from Amsterdam to Dubai and Asia. Cafes run by Aussies and Kiwis are changing the way people drink coffee across the globe via what industry insiders call “the march of the flat white”.”

As I’ve noted twice (here and here), it is cool that Australian entrepreneurs are heading out there.  The challenge remains, however, to build some meaningful advantage beyond individual, small-scale actions (i.e. getting over the sushi/pizza hurdle)…